Sights and Sounds of Drilling
There are many visions of what will happen when we move a drilling Rig on site. It is an exciting event for sure, but let’s describe what we may see and hear over the next four to five days and beyond.
Site and Preparation for Drilling: Long before the rig arrives the well location is determined by the Lessor and Lessee and a Registered Surveyor pinpoints the well location and draws up the well plat, which the “Operator” (Duck Creek Energy) of Record with the State of Ohio includes as part of his permit application. Letters notifying surrounding property owners are sent out by the Operator per State regulations and are included as part of the permitting process. No work may be performed on-site in a municipality before the Permit is issued by the State of Ohio. Once a permit has been issued preparations for drilling commence including getting on the Drilling Contractor’s schedule. The Drilling Contractor will tell you when he is ready for you, giving you typically a four to eight week window. Several days prior to drilling the Drilling Contractor and Operator go to the site and determine the physical layout of the rig on the drill site. Equipment to level the location and dig the drilling pits arrives shortly thereafter, usually the next day. The equipment consists of a bulldozer for leveling and a track hoe for digging and lining the pits. The footprint during drilling is generally a 200’ x 300’ area on most jobs. Building the location is during daylight hours and takes about eight hours. It is very interesting to watch and the rig arrives the next day. It takes eight to ten semi trailers to bring in all the equipment used in drilling; they are taken right back to the drilling location and put into position. This equipment includes everything to be self-sufficient the next four days, including:
- Doghouse, where the rig hands keep tools and their food and a place to get out of the weather
- Air compressors for air that blasts through the drill Bit bringing the cuttings to surface
- mud Pump to circulate water up and down the hole
- Diesel fuel storage tank to run the rigs Detroit Diesel engines
- An electric power generating plant to provide power and lighting for the rig
- Pipe-Racks for the pipe run into and out of the hole during the drilling
Drilling: Once drilling starts it runs to completion taking about four days per well. There is a low even drone sound of the diesel engines and an almost eerie look to the lights of the rig at night. During most of the operation, it is difficult to hear the low drone of the engines over the surrounding background noise of traffic. But at night sounds can carry further and if a complaint were to arise, it would be as lengths of drill pipe are being added (called a “connection”) where the diesel races to lift the pipe into the air. This lasts about five seconds twice an hour while drilling through soft materials such as salt or shale and every hour while drilling through harder rock such as limestone and dolomite.The reason drilling rigs do not shut down at night is to maintain the integrity of the hole. The drilling keeps everything in balance and keeps the sidewalls from caving in. You have the safest operation when you go from start to finish without interruption. At the conclusion of drilling, once you reach the total depth, “TD”, of the hole nothing exciting happens! No gushers. It occurs only in the movies. In fact it is somewhat anti-climactic. The total operation takes approximately four days. The rig “rigs down” and is on to the next hole in twelve hours.
Post Drilling: Once the rig is gone the location is ready for beginning the completion and reclamation process. We drain the pits with vacuum trucks seeking to recycle all the water we can. We try to have our pits drained and closed within three days of the drilling rig’s departure. All operations at this point are during daylight hours. Equipment consists of a bulldozer and track hoe.
Completion: Completion is the stage where we open holes in the steel Casing cemented into the hole during the drilling operation. We complete the well by bringing and filling freshwater storage tanks for the “ Fracturing” of the well. This process, also known as “fracing” a well, involves pumping water and soaps down the well at a pressure of almost 2,500 psi at a rate of 1,200 – 1,500 gallons of water per minute into the rock. This fractures the rock creating a passageway for the oil, gas, and water to come to the bore of the well and ultimately to the surface. The total time of this operation is two hours. The equipment on site include the storage tanks, vacuum trucks to fill the tanks, a service rig which is truck mounted to assist the multiple tasks, and the well service company who is in and out in several hours. Diesel engines can be heard during the varied operation but all during daylight hours. The end of the completion phase involves lowering tubing into the hole readying the hole for production and building the wellhead. The service rig drives out leaving the wellhead ready for pipeline hook-up. Total time of the completion phase is about one week on-site.
Pipelining and Construction: While the completion work is being performed, the pipeline crew is busy constructing the physical facility. Their work is done during daylight hours and can last several weeks. They use a small backhoe for digging, pick-up trucks to and from the sight in which they carry their tools and welder. Also on-site will be a directional boring machine used to install pipelines without disturbing much ground. The directional boring is fun to watch. They create a passageway under the ground at up to 500 foot in length and pull the pipe back toward them without disturbing the surface except at either end. This technology is relatively new and avoids most digging lines in at the surface. Less damage and less you have to fix. There is little noise during this operation. Our crews are friendly and very approachable to ask questions or just watch their work.
Tie-In and Production: Once the wells are tied into the pipeline system we are ready for “turn-on”. This term implies the well has moved from “Prospect to Pipeline” and is ready to go. Dominion (East Ohio) sends their crew out to officially accept gas into their system. The well is also tied into the “house system” and all are ready to receive gas. Gas, crude oil and saltwater brine are produced from the formation below during production cycles. Wells are on timers; the wells do not run 24 hours a day. The amount of run time depends on many factors including the formations ability to recover from the last cycle. Once at the surface, the water and oil go into storage tanks where gravity separates the water and oil with the water going to the bottom and the oil separating to the top. The natural gas goes out of the “separator” and into the gas pipeline where it goes right into homes for fuel. The oil is picked up at the well site by Ergon Trucking, the oil purchaser, and is hauled to Southern Ohio for shipment down the Ohio River to the refinery. The oil is high quality “Pennsylvania Grade” paraffin based crude oil and has many end markets including pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, as well as traditional motor oil and gasoline.