Acp gas flows from shale to pipeline local o gastro


Technology has come a long way to help companies such as Antero Resources in Clarksburg, get natural gas out of the Marcellus shale to send to pipelines. Today, companies use a technique called “horizontal drilling” to safely siphon gas out of shale.

“Marcellus [shale] wells are so prolific that there’s too much gas in the market right now,” said Robert Orndorff, senior policy advisor for Dominion Resources in West Virginia. “The drilling has slowed down in this area because there is so much gas. We need to find an outlet for our gas and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, and other pipelines that have been proposed, are finding a new outlet for this gas.”

That’s the problem energy companies face. There’s a large amount of natural gas in America, but it’s just a question of how much can be brought up to make a profit. The American Gas Association released a report at the end of 2014 which detailed that the United States contains 2,515 trillion cubic feet of natural gas that’s “technically recoverable.” That’s a 5.5 percent increase or 131 trillion cubic feet up from the previous assessment in 2012.

“How much that can be extracted depends on how expensive natural gas is,” Bodnar said. “If it can be sold at a high price, companies will go after gas that is deeper or harder to reach. It costs more to produce, but they can also sell it for a high price. If gas prices are low, it might sell for less than what it takes to produce.”

A new natural gas well begins with a rig that sends a drill pipe into the ground to begin the long descent to the shale. A mixture of water and other additives, called “mud,” is flushed around the drill pipe to cool the drill bit and flush cuttings to the surface, leaving a clean drill line. Once the drill reaches the shale – about 6,500 feet underground – it then begins to curve and drill horizontally. By drilling a pipe horizontally underground, fewer wells are needed at the surface to harvest the gas.

At the Frontier Drilling Rig site just outside Clarksburg, workers on Wednesday were busy drilling eight wellheads to begin harvesting natural gas. Because drill rigs weigh several tons, horizontal drilling allows the team to push the rig just 10 feet before beginning a new well to connect the underground horizontal pipe.

Once the pipe has pushed its way through the ground, it is removed and a casing is inserted before cement is poured around the casing. The cement wall around the well pipeline will prevent natural gas from contaminating fresh-water aquifers. An electric charge is then set off in the horizontal part of the line to perforate the cement casing.

Because shale is compressed, it must be fractured using a highly pressurized mixture of sand and water. The sand holds the fractures open, allowing the natural gas to escape into the pipe. The water then is either treated or recycled to be used for more fracturing projects.

The gas then flows from the shale and up through pipe to the wellhead, where workers can direct it into a pipeline. Once the drill rig completes its work, a permanent wellhead will be installed and the site eventually will become “reclaimed” – grass will be allowed to grow back around the well.

“Hydraulic fracturing [fracking] has been commercially performed in the United States since 1949 and it’s really allowed us to go down farther to get the gas,” said Benjamin Hardesty, the retired owner of Alta Energy, a consulting business focused on oil and natural gas in the Appalachian Basin.

“Fissures created by the fracking process can also create underground pathways for gases, chemicals and radioactive material,” states a report from Montana State University’s Department of Earth Sciences. The report, labeled “Potential Health and Environmental Effects of Hydrofracking,” said the concern is those pathways can help toxins make it through the ground to underwater streams. Each well produces millions of gallons of fluid containing heavy metals, brine water, liquid hydrocarbons and chemicals.

Fracking companies also don’t have to follow the regulations laid out in the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. That’s because fracking was made exempt from the act in 2005 by a vote of Congress. Even if the practice doesn’t contaminate the water, it can take a lot of it. One fracking well can take up to 8 million gallons of water annually to operate. In West Virginia, a total of 17 billion gallons of water were used from 2005 to 2013 for fracking wells.

At all of its drill sites, Antero Resources takes considerable precautions to prevent environmental contamination, according to Jason Ware, a safety coordinator. The company installs four layers of containment, including an outer “berm” that prevents any chemicals or gas from spilling onto the ground. The entire rig also is placed on waterproof matting, as well as special cementing gravel that is designed to stop leaks.

When man-made groundwater contamination occurs, it usually is from a badly drilled well, Orndorff said. If a well is not properly drilled or the cement is not poured correctly, it is possible for the gas to leak into groundwater supplies. Other times, it happens naturally, he said.

Those claims seem to be backed up by federal Department of Energy studies. One focused on 133 wells in Pennsylvania and Texas found that poor well construction, rather than fracking, led to drinking water contamination. Another Dept. of Energy study in western Pennsylvania also found no evidence that fracking caused problems reported with the water supply. In California last fall, the state’s Dept. of Gas and Geothermal Resources shut down 11 wells, over concerns that local water was being contaminated. The California Water Resources Board later released an investigative report, stating that the chemicals and wastewater from the fracking process had been deliberately dumped and it wasn’t because of the process. In that situation, high traces of arsenic were found in the local water supply wells.

The click-clacking of keyboards and ringing phones is constantly heard in the gas control room at Dominion’s headquarters in Clarksburg. From this room, workers can monitor and control every Dominion pipeline from New York and Ohio to Pennsylvania and Virginia.

“Each day starts with receiving gas,” he said. “Then we move that gas for our customers and deliver it. It may be delivered to a different pipeline or it could go to whoever is going to use it. Those plans change throughout the day. These guys are on the phone all day.”

By connecting to computers in the field, Dominion remotely controls the pipelines from one room. Because so much data are coming in at once, if there is a problem, such as a pipe under too much pressure, an alarm will go off and workers will spring into action.

“We do not have the ability from here to overpressure a pipe,” Derrickson said. “One of the concerns is that too much pressure could cause the pipe to explode. The compressor pushes the gas through and that compressor station has mechanical shutdowns. There’s logic that’s built in and safety in the field.”

“We can’t do anything in here that would cause an overpressure in the pipe. Often, people are concerned that we fall asleep at the wheel and we put too much pressure in. Well, we just can’t physically enter it through the software and even if I could, the field will not allow it.”

The testing comes as a result of federal requirements. The idea is to prevent things like the situation that happened in February of this year in Dawson, Texas, where 50 barrels worth of crude oil spilled. An investigation later found that 80 percent of the pipeline’s thickness had worn away, due to corrosion.