“It has been such an amazing journey to watch this program develop and to be proud of what our guys do,” Cabot Oil & Gas drilling technician Helen Fender said, reflecting on improvements in natural gas drilling during Cabot’s ten years in Susquehanna County.
Drilling is not the first step in creating a new natural gas well – there are months of preparation and planning before a well can begin – but it is what most people picture when natural gas comes to town. Cabot’s drilling team prioritizes safety and innovation, leading to successfully drilled wells that have become increasingly more cost-effective.
Drilling only begins once all the pieces are in place. To accomplish a safe and seamless drilling operation, the drilling department is assisted by Cabot’s other departments and partners.
First, geologists locate prime locations for possible wells based on production potential underground and surface topography. A well pad is built on leased land with good production potential. A direction company develops a well plan that determines where to drill, how deep, and in what direction. This requires careful attention to how the formation is shaped, where other wells have previously been drilled, and land owner property lines. Next, the regulatory department checks out freshwater supplies in the area and goes through a thorough permitting process. A schedule is laid out based on equipment needs and natural gas demands.
The drilling department works with engineers to decide what drill rig will work best for the series of wells planned on a well pad based on length or direction. One pad can hold multiple wells, and two different rigs are used throughout the process. In each step of the drilling process, the drill gets smaller.
A top holing rig drills the first two vertical sections of well quickly and efficiently. The first hole is drilled just below the deepest fresh groundwater then sealed with steel casing and cement to protect the water. By the end of the process, any groundwater are protected by at least four layers of steal casing and cement. The second hole is drilled and works to stabilize the well. A third hole is drilled to the kick off point, where the well will curve to begin horizontal drilling. Finally, the directional drilling tools are used to drill the curve and begin a horizontal path. Wells are drilled horizontally to access more underground resources with less disruption on the surface, or reach resources that cannot be reached by vertical drilling alone. The same type of cement is pushed through each portion of the well to seal it off and protect the surrounding environment.
Learn more about how a well is drilled and what steps are taken to protect the environment in this video.
Helen Fender, a drilling technician at Cabot, reflected on the changes that Cabot’s drilling process has undergone in the past ten years. Early in her time at Cabot, Helen said that it could take up to 50 days to drill an 8000 or 9000 foot well. Now, the drilling team is capable of drilling a well twice that length in 40 days. Costs have gone down too, she remarked, despite increases in footage.
“It’s just amazing to have watched the progression of the wells getting longer and our drill time getting shorter and safer, because it’s never routine. Every formation is different,” Helen said. She noted that technology improvements have made it easier to find out what’s really going on below the ground: what does the formation look like, and what can you expect when drilling through or around it? Now, the drilling team knows.
“We used to drill one well on a pad. You’d build a tremendous pad for one well,” Helen said. “Now we have pads that have twelve wells on them, and that whole pad was knocked out in four months.”
One of the largest focuses for the drilling team is safety – for the team, for the well pad, and for the environment. How do they achieve their safety goals? Teamwork and communication.
“Safety is just such a part of us. It’s an environment that you just know and you adhere to. You wear your safety equipment, you have a plan in place and you follow the plan,” Helen said. “You have to trust that the people you have drilling the well will follow your directions, and we have that.”
“We follow the rules. We don’t want to be wrong, we don’t want to endanger somebody, we don’t want to endanger the environment… we want to be transparent,” Helen said, regarding possible safety hazards like spills. “It’s about returning everything to the way we found it and bettering everything, not trashing it and walking away.”