Will VA Drill the Marcellus Shale Any Time Soon?

A topic we don’t write very much about is Marcellus Shale drilling in Virginia. The reason? Two reasons really: There’s only a small sliver along the western edge that sits in the Marcellus play, and most Virginians are dead set against fracking (even though it’s already in use in the state today). So there has been no Marcellus drilling in VA to date. Will that change?

A wide-ranging article in Virginia Business titled “Virginia’s Burning Question” addresses the issue of whether, and when, drilling will take place in the state. A small section of that article:

Meanwhile, the Marcellus formation found in Virginia remains undeveloped. Houston-based Carrizo Oil & Gas Inc. last year proposed drilling an exploratory well in Rockingham County, but the Republican-dominated Board of Supervisors refused to act on the company’s request for a special land-use permit. The company abandoned the idea after stiff public opposition. “We have no plans for any activity of any kind in Rockingham County,” says Richard Hunter, a Carrizo vice president.

The controversy surrounding hydraulic fracturing is “media-generated hysteria” and not grounded in objective science, says George Mason, a Kentucky-based attorney who helped draft the Virginia Gas and Oil Act of 1990. “It’s unfortunate that Virginia will have to sit on the sidelines and not know whether its Marcellus deposit is a viable source of clean-burning natural gas,” Mason says.

However, additional proposals for Marcellus drilling are unlikely in Virginia anytime soon, says Mike Miller, a petroleum engineer and senior vice president with Bluefield-based Marshall Miller & Associates, an engineering and consulting firm. “It’s not the most highly prospective area for Marcellus shale, so it won’t be economical for producers to drill here unless the price of natural gas gets a lot higher,” Miller says.

Even so, rock fracturing has been used to develop wells in Virginia since the 1950s, says Rick Cooper, deputy director of the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME). The practice was used mostly to drill vertical wells to recover conventional gas from limestone, sandstone and shale. Some horizontal wells also have been fracked in recent years as well.

Cooper says there are fewer known environmental concerns associated with hydraulic fracturing in Virginia. It necessitates far less water: about 300,000 gallons vs. 3 million gallons for Marcellus fracking in other states. Most fractures in Virginia use pure nitrogen or a mix of nitrogen and water. Injecting too much water hinders the flow of gas, Cooper says. “We have no documented cases of fracturing having contaminated the water table,” he says.

Nearly 7,500 gas-producing wells were operating in Virginia in 2010, according to the most recent statistics compiled by DMME. That includes 1,800 conventional wells and 5,600 wells used to retrieve methane…from coal beds in southwestern counties. The two largest producers of natural gas in Virginia are Pittsburgh-based EQT Corp., with 1,176 wells, and Range Resources-Pine Mountain Inc., of Abingdon, with 382 wells.

But as shale-gas production in the U.S. has increased, new drilling in Virginia has dropped significantly, Cooper says, with Range Resources and other producers shifting resources to northern Appalachian states.*

Will the Marcellus Shale in VA be developed? Not any time soon. The low price for natural gas and the public’s opinion of fracking will have to change first. The article points out VA still has plenty of gas production via conventional wells that will continue to do well for the next 20 years or so, making it less urgent for VA to move forward with shale fracking.

Read the rest of this fascinating article, with facts and figures for how much Virginia businesses are saving this year because of the Marcellus Shale gas coming from PA and WV, by clicking the link below.

*Virginia Business (Jun 28, 2012) – Virginia’s Burning Question