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Is Marcellus Shale the gas answer?

June 22, 2008
National attention has been paid to the Marcellus Shale over the course of the year.

SUNY Fredonia professor Gary Lash and Penn State Professor Terry Engelder have been studying the Marcellus play and believed the gas within could increase national natural gas reserves by upward of 20 to 25 percent.

Over the past few months, land leases continue to be signed by landowners, from New York to West Virginia, with gas lease companies paying a pretty penny per acre to drill. The Marcellus Shale lies below the states of Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and even moves into Chautauqua County. Could we expect horizontal drilling in Chautauqua County any time soon?

“It’s feasible, but I expect it will be less economically developed,” said state Assemblyman Bill Parment, who has well versed himself with gas drilling over the years. “It underlies all of Chautauqua County and runs from basically the Thruway (I-90) south of that all the way to West Virginia. It has a thickness less desirable for drilling purposes here in Chautauqua County.”

According Lash, the shale in Chautauqua County is only about 900 feet down, meaning the pressure may be lessened.

“The other problem is it’s not very thick out here. The target interval that would have the most gas is only about 20 feet thick, but as you move east it obviously gets thicker,” he said. “There has been a lot of interest though in the Broome County area, all the way out to Stuben County and even into Allegheny and Eastern Cattaraugus.”

Chautauqua County IDA director Bill Daly said the IDA has no knowledge of anyone coming forward to talk about drilling in the county.

In the meantime, the state of New York is already preparing itself for any future developments for horizontal drilling — hydraulic fracturing techniques pumping water and sand into well bores to fracture shale and release gas from its pores.

“This year I’m doing another revision of the natural gas law to allow the state to insist upon the uniform spacing of horizontal gas wells. Four years ago we did uniform spacing for vertical wells,” Parment said. “We treated horizontal wells as non-conforming, because where they were drilling horizontal wells they were drilling into formations that were hit and miss. The formation they were particularly interested in then and remain interested in is called the Trenton-Black River which had very large production of gas if you hit the seam. The gas is trapped in the trench formations 6,000 feet below the surface.”

According to Lash and Parment, at least one other lawmaker is looking to place a moratorium on any natural gas drillings, to first study land uses and any environmental impacts drilling may have on the land.

“It has been somewhat controversial. I spent a lot of time on it last week because we had people who really didn’t understand it, very concerned that it would somehow expose them to environmental damage,” Parment said. “In fact, it basically gives the (Department of Environmental Conservation) a better opportunity to protect property from environmental damage.”

Drilling legislation would require a setback from the boundary of the next unit of 330 feet during horizontal drilling. The scheme is to attempt to get companies developing in 640-acre pools with a single well pad which would be centrally located on 640 acres, and with horizontal extensions from the vertical to within 330 feet of an adjoining unit, Parment said.

Although Chautauqua County may not see drilling within Marcellus Shale anytime soon, it may be possible that drilling for another play with similar gas production could take place.

“The Trenton-Black River is under Chautauqua County and they have drilled some experimental wells here and haven’t hit it. What people tell me in the energy field is that it’s a matter of time before they do develop Trenton-Black River this far west,” Parment said. “They are moving to three dimensional seismic work which they can much better determine where to and how to drill to access the Trenton-Black River. We may see some of that action.”

Over the long term though, Parment sees trickle-down economic potential for drilling within the Marcellus Shale in New York state.

“My sense of it is that it won’t reduce the price of natural gas dramatically. The reason I say that is because I think we’re going to see an increasing demand for natural gas because the price of oil is so high,” he said. “What I suspect might happen with this Marcellus Shale gas is these companies would be selling to factories or other large users of natural gas, and by doing that these companies who buy the gas directly would save a lot of money on their gas bill. So I do hope we see some opportunity for that transaction for possibly starting companies in the region that would utilize the indigenous natural gas. If you have a company that uses natural gas in its process you might find someone is going to build a factory here because they can access this natural gas and do it at a cost less than what they pay on an investor owned utility hook-up.”

Professor Lash was looking to meet recently with some people who have land in northern Cattaraugus County, who may be utilizing the opportunity for Marcellus Shale drilling.

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“It underlies all of Chautauqua County and runs from basically the thruway (I-90) south of that all the way to West Virginia. It has a thickness less desirable for drilling purposes here in Chautauqua County.”
Assemblyman Bill Parment



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