Dallas-based Chief Oil & Gas LLC “fractured” its second gas well in the county and allowed local conservation officials and educators to witness the event.
Fracturing — called “fracing” in the natural gas industry — is the process of forcing pressurized water and sand into a shale formation to create fissures, according to Chief representative Jason de Wolfe.
The fissures allow the gas trapped in the shale to be released and captured by the gas well, de Wolfe said.
It is believed Lycoming County, along with much of central Pennsylvania, may contain a wealth of natural gas deposits located in the Marcellus Shale, a deep rock formation that runs from southern New York state to West Virginia.
Until recently, removing natural gas from the formation, which is located about 1 1/2 to 2 miles below the surface, was considered impossible.
Fracing and horizontal drilling have allowed gas to be successfully removed from shale in other parts of the country, especially the Barnett Shale formation in east Texas.
Experts believe the same technology can be used in the Marcellus formation, which has similar characteristics to the Barnett Shale.
If significant amounts of gas can be removed from the shale, landowners in the county and elsewhere in the region could benefit financially through gas leases and royalty payments.
Fracing is performed after the gas well is drilled and the drilling rig is removed from the site, de Wolfe said.
Water and sand are mixed with a substance that reduces friction, then pumped into the well at about 6,000 pounds per square inch of pressure. The fluid strikes the rock through perforations in the pipe.
The Mifflin Township operation was monitored from a “frac van” command center, where engineering manager Ed Benton and his staff monitored the rate of fluid forced into the well via a control panel, computers and monitors.
According to Benton, during the initial phase of the operation a small amount of small-grained sand is mixed with the water. As the process continues, the grain size and amount of sand increase, Benton said.
The sand is important to fracing because it prevents the shale fractures from closing, he said.
About 800,000 gallons of water and 250,000 pounds of sand were expected to be used in the Mifflin Township operation, which is a vertical well, de Wolfe said. A horizontal well would require much more water and sand, he said.
It was estimated the operation would be completed in a day, he said.
After the operation is completed, any water that can be reclaimed is removed and shipped to a waste water treatment plant, de Wolfe said.
Once a well begins to produce gas, like the first for the company in the county in Watson Township, it is capped until a pipeline can be built to tie it into transmission lines, he said. Transmission lines are located about a mile from the site, he said.
Fracing is expensive. The one-day operation will cost the company about $100,000, de Wolfe said.
The two-acre site, located at the end of a rutted dirt service road, was crammed with dozens of large trucks, a network of pipes and hoses, and blue and red tractor trailer-sized water containers.
According to company spokesperson Kristi Gittins, within a day after a fracing operation, there normally is little evidence it ever occurred, except for ruts and a cleared area where the work pad was graded.
Once the land is reclaimed, little evidence of a drilling operation will be visible, she said.
County conservation district manager Mark Davidson, who witnessed the operation, said he wanted to visit the site to learn more about gas drilling.
Davidson said many county landowners have asked him for information about gas drilling.
County environmental planner Kevin McJunkin said he is concerned about the impacts gas drilling may have outside of those addressed in state Department of Environmental Protection permits.
McJunkin said it “seems like many of the impacts are short-term.”
“The county is not against (gas wells). We see a significant economic benefit for the county,” he said.