When people communicate, that’s a good thing. When a shale well “communicates” with nearby conventional wells, that’s a bad thing. And that’s what happened with a CNX Resources Utica well being fracked in Westmoreland County last week.
CNX was fracking the Shaw 1G well in Washington Township on Saturday, Jan. 26, when they detected “a strong drop in pressure” and stopped fracking. They found “some type of obstruction in the well bore.” CNX also noticed that four nearby conventional wells showed a spike up in pressure–meaning somehow the cracks created during fracking of the Shaw well found their way into the wellbores of those other wells and the gas was leaking into the conventional wells.
By Saturday night Feb. 2, seven conventional wells were being flared–burning off natural gas pouring out of the wells. So it appears that perhaps the unwanted “communication” had spread to seven wells, not just four. The flaring was so bright Saturday night a nearby resident said it looked like “the sky was on fire.”
The Shaw 1G well is located on Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County property, close to the 1,300-acre Beaver Run Reservoir which provides drinking water for some 130,000 people. According to CNX and the state Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP), which is now monitoring the situation 24/7, there has (so far) been no impact on the reservoir. The DEP is keeping a close eye on the reservoir, sampling water periodically.
An out-of-state team was summoned to come “kill” the well. We don’t know if that has happened yet.
We have a variety of reports, which we will list in chronological order. First up is a press release issued by CNX, on Friday, Feb. 1:
CNX Resources Corporation (NYSE: CNX) tonight released the following information regarding its Shaw 1G Utica shale well in Washington Township, Westmoreland County, PA:
As part of our ongoing investigation into a pressure anomaly that was recently observed on the Shaw 1G well, CNX has begun preparations to remediate the well and arrest the subsurface flow of gas.
We have and continue to work in close coordination with the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County (MAWC) and all appropriate state and local stakeholders to ensure the situation is addressed in a safe and environmentally compliant manner. There have been no injuries and no impact to the local community or the environment. We immediately activated appropriate resources and continue taking measures to safeguard Beaver Run Reservoir and surrounding communities. Public health and safety are our top priorities.
Company personnel and specialized consultants are monitoring existing nearby gas wells and are continuing to manage any potential gas communication to those wells.
All frac operations on the Shaw pad remain suspended. We will provide further updates as appropriate. (1)
Next came a report from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, from Saturday, Feb. 2, essentially breaking the news:
CNX Resources Corp. has spent the past week trying to get a Utica Shale well near the Beaver Run Reservoir in Westmoreland County under control after a problem there was followed by gas pressures spiking at nearby shallow wells.
The Cecil-based oil and gas firm was fracking its Shaw 1G well in Washington Township on Jan. 26 when it detected a strong drop in pressure, the company told environmental regulators. It stopped fracking and found some type of obstruction in the well bore, said state Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Lauren Fraley.
CNX also told the DEP that four conventional — that is, shallower, vertical wells — nearby showed spikes in pressure, a sign of communication between the gas in the Utica well and the four other wells in the vicinity.
Neighbors described a parade of trucks and hard-hatted workers dispatched to the Shaw pad and to properties with shallow wells, some of which are being flared to relieve the pressure. Residents were on guard about the activity — and what it might mean for conventional wells on their properties.
A DEP crew has been stationed at the site around the clock and will remain there until “we feel confident that the situation is under control,” Ms. Fraley said.
A special well control team had been summoned from out of state to “kill” the well, a procedure that involves pumping heavy mud into the wellbore to stop the flow and keep it down.
That had not yet happened by Saturday evening.
Ms. Fraley said at this point, the agency is not aware of any pollution or impacts to environmental resources as a result of the situation.
A statement from the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County, which operates the Beaver Run Reservoir and supplies water to more than 120,000 customers, assured that water quality has not been compromised.
“Any activity on our watershed is monitored intently,” the statement said. “Our water quality surveillance is increased any time there is any activity on our property. It is very comprehensive and has not noted any changes.”
Representatives from the authority could not be reached for comment on Saturday.
The path of the well travels under the reservoir but it isn’t clear how far along that path the well had been fracked when the problem occurred. Fracking involves pumping fluid and sand at high pressure into a well bore to create cracks in the shale where gas is trapped.
According to the well records available in DEP’s database, the Shaw 1G well plunged 13,740 feet below the surface, more than 2 miles deep, and extended some 8,000 feet horizontally. It is not yet known how the gas from it impacted the four conventional wells that are many thousands of feet shallower.
CNX would not answer questions beyond the statement that the company issued Friday evening.
It said, in part, that “company personnel and specialized consultants are monitoring existing nearby gas wells and are continuing to manage any potential gas communication to those wells.”
“There have been no injuries and no impact to the local community or the environment,” the statement said, noting that the company is in close contact with MAWC and other stakeholders and would provide “further updates as appropriate.”
Shaw 1G is on the same pad as three other shale wells and within a half mile radius of more than two dozen other oil and gas wells, including Marcellus Shale wells, operating conventional wells, plugged wells, and those considered inactive.
Two of the impacted conventional wells are close to the Utica well pad, Ms. Fraley said, and the other two are “a few thousand feet” away.
The conventional wells don’t belong to CNX. The DEP did not identify the owners of the impacted conventional wells.
Paperwork that CNX submitted to the DEP when it was about to drill the Shaw 1G well shows there are at least four private water wells within 3,000 feet of the pad.
One is on the property of Robert Schimizzi.
Mr. Schimizzi said he returned from out of town on Friday to find hundreds of trucks bustling about the area, with dozers and tanks stationed at conventional wells that don’t typically get this kind of attention.
He has one of those gas wells on his property that is operated by a firm other than CNX. It supplies gas to his home. When he was gone, his girlfriend said someone working in the area asked if it would be OK to shut off the gas well, but given the temperature she declined.
His water well is fine and his gas remains on, although he did have to reignite pilot lights Saturday, Mr. Schimizzi said.
Three other neighbors with water wells also reported no impacts to the Post-Gazette, but all were concerned that no company or regulatory officials have been in touch to check or inform them of the situation.
“Hey guys, I live there. Am I in danger?,” Mr. Schimizzi said. “At least somebody tap on my door and tell me.”
He said he planned to turn off his connection to the gas well before going to sleep on Saturday night. (2)
The state DEP provided this update yesterday, on Sunday, Feb. 3:
At 11:30 TODAY, DEP provided this update on the situation at the well–
CNX reported an incident at its Shaw 1G well on the evening of Saturday, January 26.
Throughout this week, DEP’s Oil & Gas program has been, and continues to be, in regular communication with CNX on the well control issue.
During the fracking stage of the Utica well, CNX experienced a significant loss of pressure and potential communication with other nearby conventional wells.
DEP requested—and is receiving—multiple daily updates from CNX. Once the issue is under control, the department will request a root cause analysis from CNX.
DEP’s Emergency Response and Oil & Gas personnel will be on site 24/7 until the well is under control and the Department will continue to investigate this matter.
DEP’s Safe Drinking Water program is in communication with the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County (MAWC) on precautions to the Beaver Run Reservoir.
MAWC reported to DEP that it has been sampling the reservoir and MAWC’s intake is one to two miles from the well site. MAWC has been in communication with CNX.
MAWC reported no issues or abnormalities to DEP, but—like all public water systems—has emergency response plans if necessary.
There are no issues with private water wells that DEP is aware of. (3)
Finally, the Post-Gazette ran a followup story on Sunday:
Residents in Westmoreland County remain concerned after increased traffic and flaring at nearby natural gas wells continued following a “pressure anomaly” last week at one of CNX Resources Corp.’s horizontal Utica Shale drilling sites last week.
“When you came through there last night, the sky was on fire,” Robert Schimizzi of Washington Township said Sunday. “The wells were burning, and nobody knew why.”
As of Sunday, CNX was flaring seven nearby conventional wells, which can reach as deep as 3,000 feet, CNX spokesman Brian Aiello said.
Gas pressures increased last week at nearby shallow wells after the company was fracking at the much deeper — a little more than 2 miles below the ground — and horizontal Shaw 1G well site between Tower Run Road and the Beaver Run Reservoir on the property of the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County.
Fracking is the process of pumping fluids and sand at high pressure to break shale formations and release gas.
CNX suspended fracking operations at the well on Jan. 26 and began flaring the first nearby shallow well last Tuesday.
The municipal authority said Saturday that there was no threat to the roughly 1,300-acre Beaver Run Reservoir, which provides drinking water to about 130,000 people.
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection officials told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Saturday that a crew will be stationed at the site round-the-clock.
Mr. Schimizzi said CNX called him Sunday and “they assured me that they have it under control.”
Other neighbors, including Jeff Pope, whose property borders Mr. Schimizzi’s, said they hadn’t received calls.
“We would appreciate some communication. We’ve tolerated a lot,” Mr. Pope said, referring to increased traffic through the township since the Marcellus Shale drilling boom began.
CNX contends that it has been in “regular contact with approximately 70 local residents … focusing on and communicating regularly with those residents in closest proximity to the flaring,” Mr. Aiello said. (4)
We’ll keep an eye out for more updates.
(1) CNX Resources Corporation (Feb 1, 2019) – CNX Provides Information on Shaw 1G Utica Well
(2) Pittsburgh (PA) Post-Gazette (Feb 2, 2019) – State, crews monitoring problem in deep gas well in Westmoreland County
(3) PA Environment Digest Blog (Feb 3, 2019) – UPDATED: Post-Gazette-Litvak: DEP Monitoring Pressure Problem From Fracking Deep Gas Well In Westmoreland County, Crews Coming From Out Of State To Kill The Well
(4) Pittsburgh (PA) Post-Gazette (Feb 3, 2019) – Westmoreland residents remain concerned about flaring, ongoing deep gas well issue
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