Range Resources: Long Laterals, Less Disruption, More Gas

cost of renewables - Tom ShepstoneTom Shepstone
Natural Gas NOW


Something spectacular is happening in Washington County, Pennsylvania as Range Resources is doing 3-mile laterals with huge benefits for everyone involved.

Range Resources just sponsored an article in the Washington, Pennsylvania Observer-Reporter talking about the pioneering work of the company in extending laterals out to nearly three miles. The shale revolution, as most insiders recognize, is far more a function of horizontal drilling than it is hydraulic fracturing (fracking). It is what has allowed shale layers to be tapped effectively by following them horizontally deep underground. Range Resources, along with some other companies, are gradually extending these lateral drilling movements further and further. The combined economic and environmental benefits are just huge.

Range Resources

Here are some excerpts from the article:

When Range Resources first began drilling horizontally in the Marcellus Shale, the average length of laterals was around 2,500 feet.  Today, that length has increased to nearly 3 miles.

Horizontal drilling technology is one of the most important factors for the modern shale boom. Lateral wellbores allow companies like Range Resources to access large volumes of natural gas trapped within geologic formations from a single location. As drilling companies are able to drill laterals at increasingly longer lengths – they can access more natural gas with fewer wells and less disruption on the surface of the land.

Recently, Range Resources set a record for the longest laterals drilled in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.  The company wasn’t aiming for a record, only for greater efficiency and the best use of resources…

Lateral lengths aren’t decided by the Drilling team – it’s Range’s Planning & Development team who sets those parameters, based on where there is the greatest potential for pipeline capacity.  Before they broke the current PA record, Range’s longest laterals had come in around 11,000 feet, with the exception of one lateral that reached a length of 14,400.  Once they hit 15,000 feet, they knew they’d broken a record for Range, but didn’t realize they had now surpassed every other driller in PA. Careful research by Drilling Engineer Pat Quinn revealed the truth.

“Longer laterals are becoming the norm in the industry,” says Quinn. But it’s a strategy that also requires careful consideration.  “It calls for constant monitoring of our best practices.”

For communities that benefit from natural gas drilling, longer laterals can mean more natural gas production from fewer locations. Drilling Engineering Manager Josh Doak is looking at the opportunities that drilling longer laterals presents for Range, and for the communities in which Range operates.  “You can be more strategic on where you place the pad, and it also potentially means fewer topholes because with the ability drill longer laterals, you can access gas underground that previously would have required additional vertical drilling.  This strategy shrinks our environmental footprint even more than before, and gives us more options for accessing the natural gas rich shale formations in the region.”

While Range has touted both the economic and the environmental benefits of this achievement, there are some added features. There is, for example, the increased efficiency of drilling that allows gas companies to compete with other sources of energy and supplies from other countries. Don’t think the Russians are pleased with our technological achievements. They mean our LNG going to Poland is becoming ever more competitive with their gas, thereby helping to ensure freedom in that part of the world, not to mention less dependence here on foreign sources of energy.

There are also the increased economic benefits to Washington County and other places Marcellus and Utica drillers are operating. Those benefits include jobs and taxes for a rural America desperately needing them.

The biggest benefit of longer laterals, though, is the open space they help protect. It’s not only the minimization of land disturbance that’s important but also the fact landowners can capture the value of their natural resources without selling the farm or the woods. Longer laterals means ever more income from ever less disturbance. Farmers can keep farming, in other words and large landowners don’t have to sell their land to pay taxes. Land can be economically productive with the ever shrinking footprints. No other type of land use or economic development produces so much with so little and the ratio just keeps improving.

There’s no better open space program around than gas drilling, in fact. That’s why I told several people on both sides of the debate that there’s no need to drill within the Upper Delaware River corridor near where I live. It’s less than two miles wide and a gas company could drill under it and capture the resource without ever touching anything close to it on the surface. It’s the same elsewhere, including in London where our buddy Nick Grealy hopes to drill. When you’re a mile and a half down and three miles out, there is no impact. It’s just a win for both sides. That’s why I love the gas industry. It’s non-stop innovation with benefits for everyone – even fractivists.

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