Officials from Houston-based Anadarko Petroleum Corp. said they are confident the development of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation in Central Pennsylvania - specifically in a three-county area - will have a positive financial impact on the state and the company.
"Clinton, Lycoming and Centre counties are a focus area for us," said company spokesman Matt Carmichael. "It is our hope that our production of gas resources will have a great benefit for the Commonwealth and our shareholders."
The company has completed the drilling of one horizontal gas well near Snow Shoe and is drilling two others on state forest land in Clinton County, one of which is in Grugan Township, near Pine Creek.
Petroleum Corp. hosted a media tour Thursday of the Grugan Township site near Pine Creek, which features a state-of-the art drilling rig operated by Canada-based Precision Drilling Trust.
The Snow Shoe site has yet to be hydrofractured, a process in which pressurized water, sand and chemicals are pumped into the well to pulverize shale and release the gas trapped within it.
The company hosted a media tour Thursday at the Grugan Township site, which features a state-of-the art drilling rig operated by Canada-based Precision Drilling Trust.
The rig is able to "walk" on the well pad, moving up to 90 feet in six-foot "steps," according to rig manager Raymond Drover.
Anadarko believes the rig will maximize its ability to retrieve gas from the shale formation while minimizing the impact on the environment. By using the rig, the company will be able to drill up to six horizontal wells from a single well pad, Carmichael said.
Drilling multiple horizontal wells from a single pad will allow the company to drain a much larger area than a single vertical well pad, thus reducing the overall "footprint" on the landscape, said Michael J. Beattie, company geoscience manager for the Appalachia region.
The technique not only reduces the number of well pads that have to be built, but also cuts down on the number of service roads needed to maintain well sites, he said.
"From an ecological point of view, there is less disruption," he said.
The swath of state land about 2.5 miles long on which the well is located in Grugan Township could be fully developed with only a handful of horizontal well pads. In comparison, the same area would need 32 vertical well pads to retrieve the same amount of gas, Beattie said.
According to Beattie, seismic testing has shown that a 300-foot-wide shelf of shale is thousands of feet under the ground. The company plans to drill down to the shale, then gradually turn the drill bit to a right angle and drill horizontally between 4,000 and 5,000 feet.
Thus, gas could be drawn from a 4,000- to 5,000-foot section of shale, compared to about 300 feet of shale accessible through vertical drilling, Beattie said.
Once the drilling is completed, explosive charges in the pipe blast perforations in it and the shale surrounding it, Beattie said. Pressurized water then is pumped into the pipe, creating a "spider web" of fractured shale from which the gas will be drawn.
The well hole is sealed off and reinforced with multiple layers of concrete and steel casing to protect groundwater from contamination from drilling and hydrofracturing flowback, Beattie said.
The company plans to use water purchased from municipal water systems to hydrofracture the well, according to Chris Doyle, Anadarko's general manager of development.
Buying water from a municipal authority provides that municipality with additional revenue, he said.
Doyle said about 30 percent of the water used in hydrofracturing is retrievable. The company expects to build an on-site treatment facility that will remove impurities from the water so it can be used for subsequent hydrofracturing.
Doing so will reduce the number of trucks needed to deliver water to a drill site, as well as reduce the amount of water needed for its operations, Doyle said.
Impurities removed from the water will be disposed of at a site approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
According to Doug Lawler, vice president of operations-southern region, the more the company works in the Marcellus Shale, the more it learns about the shale formation. As each well is drilled, data is collected that will make the next drilling operation more efficient.
"The more you drill, the more you learn, the more data you can collect," he said.
Doyle said the company has a long track record of good environmental practices. He said the company intends to be a good corporate neighbor.
The company is committed to the environment and the safety of residents living near drilling operations, Lawler added.
Gas development will be done "in an entirely sound and sensitive way," he said.
Doyle said he believes gas exploration can have a positive impact on a local economy, but not just in terms of hotel occupancy and business at local restaurants.
Doyle said the industry can have a more tangible impact by way of creating family-sustaining jobs. Unfortunately, people with the skills needed by the industry are hard to find in Pennsylvania.
The company is working with local universities, such as Pennsylvania College of Technology, to develop a curriculum to train the work force needed to support the industry.
Anadarko is the top independent oil and gas companies in the world.