Buell well produced oil, gas and complaints
By Spencer Hunt
April 15, 2012
Source: The Columbus Dispatch
JEWETT, Ohio — What did it take to create Ohio’s most-productive Utica shale well?
For a start, 10.8 million gallons of water, 9.4 million pounds of sand and 112,000 gallons of “fracking” compounds.
When Chesapeake Energy engineers mixed those ingredients with the help of a drilling rig and hydraulic-fracturing pumps at the site of a long-depleted 1940s-era strip mine in Harrison County, they were rewarded with 13,000 barrels of oil and 1.5 million cubic feet of natural gas.
That’s enough natural gas to account for 2 percent of the state’s total output for an entire year from more than 64,400 wells, and it was produced during 198 days last year.
“They obviously have a nice well in the Buell,” said Tom Stewart, vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association.
The well also has produced one unhappy landowner — Kenneth Buell, the man for whom it’s named. He said he should be paid for land lost to the well. He’s also upset at the way Chesapeake has treated him.
“They closed a gate across (the land) and locked it and didn’t even have the consideration to send a letter or call to let me know how to unlock it so I could get access to my own property,” Buell said.
“They just did what they needed to do, and it was ‘too bad, so sad.’ ”
Buell’s comments stand apart from those of state and local officials who have made the well a symbol of their hopes that a Utica-shale drilling boom will create thousands of jobs.
“It’s already brought business into our town,” said Ken Zitko, the mayor of Cadiz.
The village made $110,000 when it let Chesapeake draw fracking water from an emergency-supply reservoir, Zitko said. “We got paid a penny a gallon.”
Rights to drill
The land in which the Buell well was drilled was part of a North American Coal Co. strip-mining operation in the 1940s. When the company finished mining, it sold the surface rights to the land at a discount, said John Tabbachi, a Cadiz lawyer whose father bought land next to Buell’s in the 1950s.
The mining company was “practically giving it away,” Tabbachi said. “But what they did was, they kept the minerals, as they usually do, and, of course, the oil and gas.”
In emailed comments, Chesapeake officials wrote that they leased the land from North American in 2009. A copy of a lease shows that the coal company also kept the “right of ingress and egress at all times” to the land to allow for future drilling.
Buell, a Delaware County farmer who bought the 243 acres 30 years ago for deer hunting, said he should be compensated for the amount of land the well site takes. Chesapeake officials replied that they acted within the terms of their lease and that Buell now has full access to the property through the gate.
The process of drilling and fracking is impressive in terms of sheer size and scope.
It took 25 days, starting on Jan. 19, 2011, to drive a shaft more than a mile deep before it curved to let a drill bit chew a 6,945-foot horizontal path through the Utica shale. The process included more than 4,000 sacks of cement and 17,400 feet of steel pipe to encase the well shaft.
The work involved about 1,400 tanker-truck trips to and from the Cadiz reservoir, spread over 22 days in March 2011, said Harrison County Engineer Robert Sterling. The reservoir is about 6 miles from the well.
Sterling said Chesapeake also purchased close to 5,000 tons of crushed limestone and paid a county crew to repair the gravel road leading to the drill site.
“It was pretty much daily (repair work) while they were out there, especially during the fracking,” Sterling said.
The water, mixed with the sand and chemicals, was injected underground to fracture the shale and free its trapped oil and gas. The chemical ingredients included hydrochloric acid and compounds such as ethylene glycol, which can damage the kidneys, heart, lungs and nervous system.
The sand helps keep the cracks open in the fractured shale. The chemicals are used to turn the water into a gel — to kill fungus and reduce friction and corrosion.
The chemicals are at the heart of a debate between the industry and environmentalists who consider them a pollution threat. Industry officials argue that the concentration of the chemicals is minuscule, about 1 percent of the injected liquids, and thus not harmful to the environment.
Trent Dougherty, staff attorney for the Ohio Environmental Council, said 112,000 gallons shouldn’t be downplayed.
“That’s a lot of chemicals,” he said.
How much oil and gas?
Comparatively little remains at the drill site today, except a wellhead connected to constantly humming processing equipment that separates natural gas, oil and wastewater that bubbles up from the well. The gas is shunted to a Dominion pipeline.
Whether the large amount of natural gas and oil is typical of what future shale wells will produce is still a matter of speculation. State production reports list only nine of the 58 shale wells that have been drilled so far in Ohio.
How much and how long the Buell well will produce is another unanswered question.
Chesapeake officials said well production decreases from the first day, with the first three years providing the most oil and gas. Some wells, however, can continue to produce oil and gas for decades.
“The data reported, while promising, is still very limited and only a small part of the information needed to gauge the potential of the entire (Utica) formation,” Chesapeake wrote in a statement.