HARRISBURG, Pa. — New horizontal drilling technology that is tapping into the Marcellus and Utica shale plays is boosting Pennsylvania’s natural gas production, which trended upward in 2015, according to the newly released Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) 2015 Oil and Gas Annual Report.
In 2015, more than 4.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas were produced in Pennsylvania — that’s enough natural gas to power more than 62 million U.S. households annually. In comparison, the state produced about 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in 2011.
Currently, Pennsylvania is the second largest supplier of natural gas in the nation, according to the department.
“As our report shows, despite the reduction in the number of natural gas wells that were drilled in Pennsylvania during 2015, the overall volume of natural gas produced continued to increase to a record level,” said Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell in a prepared statement.
Production data is self-reported to DEP by operators.
To date, the most productive formation has been the Marcellus shale formation, from which almost 4.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas was generated in 2015 alone.
Fewer drilling permits
In 2015, DEP issued a total of 2,520 well drilling permits including both conventional and unconventional wells in Pennsylvania. Of this amount, DEP issued 2,081 well drilling permits for the construction of unconventional wells, down from 3,182 permits in 2014. This reduction is primarily due to the overall market pull-back, and fewer drilling rigs in the state. DEP expects the number of unconventional well drilling permits received during 2016 to remain low.
Of the 2015 total, 439 were for the construction of conventional wells, compared to 1,268 in 2014 and a recent high of 7,494 permits in 2006.
Well drilling trends
Operators drilled 160 unconventional wells in Washington County last year, another 103 wells in Greene County, and 85 wells in Butler County. In northeast Pennsylvania, operators drilled 152 unconventional wells in Susquehanna County, and another 43 in Bradford County.
The number of wells drilled in Pennsylvania during 2015 dropped significantly from 2014. In 2014, operators drilled a total of 2,163 wells in Pennsylvania, including both conventional and unconventional wells. Of this amount, 1,372 were unconventional wells and 789 were conventional wells. This represents more than a 50 percent reduction in the total number of wells drilled from 2014 to 2015. In 2011, there were 1,957 unconventional wells drilled in Pennsylvania.
Of the 785 unconventional wells that were drilled in 2015, only 23 of these wells were drilled into the Utica Shale Play and 32 wells were drilled into the Point Pleasant Shale Play.
According to the DEP report, the Utica and Point Pleasant shale plays are much deeper below the surface than the Marcellus Shale Play, but also hold significant volumes of natural gas available for future production. “It is likely that as market forces stabilize, there will be increased interest in drilling wells into the Utica and Point Pleasant shale formations,” according to the report.
In 2015, in western Pennsylvania, there were two wells drilled in the Utica play in Washington County; two in Greene County; three in Lawrence County. There were also 23 unconventional wells drilled in the Point Pleasant play in Mercer County; four in Lawrence County; and five in Greene County.
Conventional wells continue to be drilled in the original oil patch in northwestern Pennsylvania first drilled in 1859 by Edwin Drake. This corner of the state continues to yield Pennsylvania Grade crude oil, renowned for its lubricating qualities.
Of the top counties, there were 107 conventional wells drilled in Warren County last year; 70 in Venango County; and 62 in McKean.
The DEP employs about 100 oil and gas inspectors who conduct compliance inspections at oil and gas wells and well sites. In 2015, the department completed 34,604 total inspections, including 13,186 inspections at unconventional wells, and another 13,556 at conventional well sites. According to the DEP report, from 2010 through 2015, the number of violations for unconventional wells decreased from 1,280 to 404.
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