HUGHESVILLE - Chief Oil and Gas LLC officials could barely contain their enthusiasm Thursday as they unveiled a new state-of-the-art gas drilling rig in Penn Township.
"I'm as proud as a new poppa because of that bad boy down there," said Michael Hallford, operations manager for Chief's Appalachia region.
"This is a big day for Chief Oil and Gas," said William Buckler, company senior vice president of operations. "It's an exciting day."
The rig, specially designed for horizontal drilling in the Marcellus Shale, is the first of its kind in the company's Appalachia region, according to Hallford.
The region includes Pennsylvania and parts of Ohio, New York, West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland.
It also is the largest rig in the region, Buckler said, adding, "We're real proud of that."
The 1,600-horsepower rig was built by Houston-based IDM Group and operated by West Virginia-based Union Drilling Inc., from whom Chief is leasing the rig for three years.
According to Buckler, the rig is electric-diesel powered and moves on skids so it can drill multiple wells on a single well pad.
The rig is quieter, gives off less emissions and is safer to operate than conventional rigs, he said.
It also is easier to move because it can be broken down quickly and carted off in about 40 truckloads, he said.
According to Byron "Doc" Musselman, general manager of Union Drilling Inc., the rig was designed for the rugged terrain and road conditions of Pennsylvania.
In Texas and Oklahoma, truckloads can be any size, but in Pennsylvania, loads must be smaller to allow trucks to navigate bridges, detours and road construction, Musselman said.
The rig has been in operation for about two weeks, Hallford said. The company expects to have six rigs operating in the region by the end of next year.
The company unveiled the rig Texas-style - by hosting a barbecue and inviting friends and neighbors.
Attending the event were area residents, township and county officials, county Cooperative Extension staff and employees of Chief and Union Drilling.
County Commissioner Rebecca A. Burke said the rig represents a significant investment in the county and the state.
The company provided tours of the rig and also presented the county with $10,000 to be used to train emergency responders.
According to Buckler, Chief spends between $3 million and $5 million for each well site that it develops in the Marcellus Shale.
"Each well is a sizeable investment, but we think there is a lot of potential to get gas out of the (shale)," he said.
According to Hallford, the company has drilled 12 wells in Lycoming County, including four horizontal wells.
"This is the fifth horizontal well," he said.
According to information provided by the company, horizontal drilling includes drilling straight down, or vertically, for more than a mile, then turning the drill horizontally into the shale.
Once the drilling is completed, the shale is "hydrofractured," by pumping pressurized water, sand and chemicals into the well to pulverize the shale and release the natural gas trapped within it.
It is believed an estimated 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas is embedded in the Marcellus Shale.