There has been a significant acceleration in gas drilling activity in 2010, both in drilling permits issued and actual wells being drilled, according to websites maintained by the Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research and state Department of Environmental Protection Bureau of Oil and Gas Management.
Penn State recently began showing shale development activity in northcentral Pennsylvania and elsewhere in the state through a series of animated maps available on the Marcellus Shale Center website.
The DEP maintains a site that contains spread sheets showing permit and drilling activities. The site also shows well yields.
The Penn State maps use dots, color-coded by year, to show the location of wells or permitted wells on a map of the state containing an overlay of the shale and county boundaries.
The dots appear on the map by years beginning in 2007 and remain on the map until the animation cycles through to 2010. The animation then returns to 2007 and begins the process over.
"These (maps) give people a chance to see how the pace of Marcellus development has accelerated," said Thomas Murphy, co-director of the center and an extension educator with the Penn State Cooperative Extension.
The site also contains maps that show the depths and thickness of the shale.
Although Bradford, Tioga and Susquehanna counties are seeing the largest amount of shale activity in the region, Lycoming and Sullivan counties also are seeing increases compared to previous years, Murphy said.
Almost twice as many Marcellus Shale gas wells have been drilled this year in Lycoming County than were drilled in all the years previously, according to the DEP site.
More than 80 Marcellus wells were drilled in 2010 in the county, compared to a total of 42 wells drilled since 2007. No wells were drilled from 2000 to 2006.
In Bradford and Tioga counties, where 286 and 213 wells, respectively, were drilled this year, fewer than 140 wells were drilled in each county during previous years.
Nine wells were drilled in Sullivan County this year. The DEP site shows no wells drilled between 2000 and 2009.
The 63 wells drilled so far this year in Susquehanna County surpasses by one the number drilled in 2009. Only 32 wells were drilled in that county in 2008, and a total of three wells were drilled in all of 2006 and 2007, according to the site.
According to Murphy, the rate of activity is determined by factors such as natural gas prices, the amount of cash gas companies have on hand, the speed in which permits can be obtained, the availability of drilling rigs and work crews and the proximity and availability of infrastructure such as pipeline.
Although the number is constantly changing, Murphy estimates there are about 95 drilling rigs operating in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania.
"The rigs a more powerful and quieter, Murphy said. Many of them are capable of moving on a well pad to allow multiple wells to be drilled without the rig being torn down and reassembled, he said.
According to the Penn State site, 99 drilling permits were issued statewide in 2007. The following year, that number increased to more than 500 the following year, 1,985 in 2009, and more than 2,100 this year.
Gas company reporting figures available on the DEP site show gas yields to be higher than expected, Murphy said.
"There is a trend that the Marcellus Shale could potentially be considerably more productive that the Barnett Shale (in Texas), as a comparison shale," Murphy said. "The process is still evolving and there is still a lot of work to be done as to the prime location of gas in the shale.
"There are growing indications that the Marcellus will be more productive (per well) that some of the other shales in the United States,"?Murphy added.