Industry rep fields questions on impact of fracking locally
The Morgan County Marcellus Shale Committee heard from a gas industry representative concerning one aspect of Marcellus shale gas well drilling at their Thursday, November 17 meeting.
The topic was “fracking” — the hydraulic fracturing of shale to release gas trapped within the stone.
Greg Kozera of Kanawha County, a project engineer and sales manager with Superior Well Services, a subsidiary of drilling company Nabors Industries, gave a slide presentation and answered questions from the committee and 10 county residents who attended.
Kozera made the case that the huge resources of natural gas trapped in both the Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale belts deep beneath the surface of the Appalachian Basin are important to this country’s economic future and environmental health.
“We’ve got to do it smart, we’ve got to do it right. Yes there are environmental issues. There are a lot of issues we have to deal with. Let’s deal with the smart issues, let’s figure out how to produce this,” Kozera said.
He didn’t expect that Morgan County will be a prime gas drilling location, but thought drilling might take place here after other areas had been used.
County Commissioner Brenda Hutchinson asked about contaminating drinking water.
Kozera said that if done right, the fracking of wells does not contaminate drinking water.
He said his company lines gas wells below the level of water aquifers with three layers of steel pipe alternating with three layers of cement, cemented all the way back up to the surface.
“You can’t frack through three layers of casing. The problem isn’t fracking, its integrity. It’s a well construction problem. If I am going to get into somebody’s water, it’s going to be because that casing isn’t cemented properly,” Kozera said.
Fracking takes place 5,000 to 7,000 feet below the water table and can’t at that depth contaminate drinking water, he said.
Committee member Jim Hoyt asked about pulling water out of streams for use in the process.
“Steams are still a source, but what we are finding out is the bigger companies are trying to find a more permanent source,” Kozera said. Some companies in Pennsylvania and West Virginia are now pumping water from the Ohio River.
Hoyt asked about using a “closed loop” system to recapture and reuse water.
Kozera said the drilling company he works with captures and reuses all of the frack water that they get back.
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County resident Joe Lorenzo asked how a landowner would know if a company trespassed by drilling under their land.
Hoyt said the drilling companies keep well logs and know how far they have drilled.
Committee Chairman Larry Schultz said, “The damages for such a trespass, in the minerals of another, are not just that they have to pay for what they took. They have to pay three times. That is something I think they are very careful about.”
County resident Scott Swaim asked about “forced pooling,” a legal issue involving clauses written into mineral leases that force adjacent landowners into a drilling unit, even if they haven’t leased their mineral rights.
In Virginia, if someone isn’t a part of a unit, they can be forced into the unit. “They still get paid,” Kozera said.
This has been a major topic of discussion by the West Virginia legislative committee drafting proposed Marcellus Shale drilling regulations.
Hoyt suggested if someone approaches you about a lease, don’t sign it right away, but get legal advice.
“The first thing I would ask is who is the company?” Kozera said. “There are some companies that I won’t lease to. I would say show me some wells you have drilled.”
County resident Tom Zahnow asked about bad drillers.
“What I would watch right now are the land people. If it was me, I wouldn’t be leasing to an individual I would be leasing to an energy company, someone that is reputable,” Kozera said.
Committee member Mark Hann asked about the average pay for a worker on a drilling site.
“Our guys start at $14 - $18 an hour. One hundred percent of the workers in my company are West Virginians,” Kozera said.
He admitted the drilling rig companies have a hard time finding local qualified workers. Passing a drug test is generally one of the requirements.
Hoyt asked what type of jobs that local people are hired for. Kozera said mostly equipment operators and truck drivers.
“Just the fracking operation takes 200 folks,” Kozera said.
Lorenzo asked how many people are left after the well is producing gas. Korera said only a few are left for maintenance but the others move on to the next site.
The drilling industry creates construction, drilling, trucking, hospitality, steel, chemical and mining jobs, he said.
County resident Rick Parker asked about gas venting into the atmosphere from the holding tanks.
Kozera said the tanks do vent.
Schultz asked about the decibel level during drilling and fracking operations.
Kozera said he wears ear plugs when he goes to a drilling site. “Is there noise? Yes. If you have ear plugs, great,” Kozera said.
Schultz pointed out the people who live within 1,000 feet don’t have ear plugs.
“I can’t tell you what the level is. If your house is next to a well site, there might be issues,” Kozera said.
Hoyt asked how long it takes to drill and frack a well. Kozera said from 15 to 21 days.
Asked what chemicals are used in fracking solutions, Kozera said the industry is moving away from harmful chemicals. He said the industry doesn’t disclose the chemicals because it’s a competitive business.
“If gas cost $3 a cubic foot in the United States and $15 a cubic foot in Europe, what is the incentive to not just ship it overseas?” asked county resident Joe Dropp.
“That’s a good question and that’s a challenge. That has to be approved through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Kozera said.
After concluding their series of fact-finding meetings, the Morgan County Marcellus Shale Committee is expected to report to the county commissioners in January.