Extracting natural gas from a horizontal shale well requires between three and five million gallons of water per well. Gas producers must identify and obtain permits from state regulatory agencies to withdraw water from streams or rivers, with additional oversight on limiting water withdrawals to protect fish and aquatic life. New technologies, however, are allowing producers to recycle and reuse nearly all water used in the completions process. In some cases, producers are recycling 100 percent of their water.
Water used in the hydraulic fracturing, or completions, process is transported to the site where it is mixed carefully with sand and other lubricating agents, which are all listed publically on the PA DEP’s website and available on a well-by-well basis at www.fracfocus.org.
The first step in the completions process involves perforating the well casing in the horizontal portion of the well. By setting a small charge, which perforates the casing and cement, operators create the necessary opening in the casing to allow the hydraulic fracturing portion of the completions process to begin. The fracturing fluids – made up of more than 99.5 percent water and sand – is then injected under controlled high pressure to create paper-thin fractures in the targeted formation, and expand and hold open the fractures, allowing the natural gas to flow to the well head.
It can take several days to complete the hydraulic fracturing process and requires continuous monitoring to ensure the safety of workers and the protection of the environment. Natural gas companies invest $6 million or more to develop a single well. Protecting that investment through safe operation and successful completion is a key priority for every well drilled.
After a successful hydraulic fracturing procedure, wells are tested using a controlled flaring process and plugged while equipment is put in place to allow the well to move to the production phase. Some development areas have a pipeline ready to take the gas to market. In these areas, the producer will typically put the gas directly into the pipeline so there is no visual sign of flaring. It is important to note that open flaring is no longer allowed in Pennsylvania and operators are required to capture this gas.
Natural gas producers recognize that the drilling and completions process is not without short-term inconveniences. MSC members companies are committed to working with municipalities and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to develop road management plans to ensure roadways are repaired in a timely manner and that safety of the motoring public is not compromised.