Sometimes old drilling and fracking data can reveal a great deal about the potential for natural gas development or at least help in dispensing with some myths.
Many people don’t realize it, but there is a wealth of public information available in the records of state agencies regarding the performance of old oil and gas wells, including gas wells in some surprising places. There are many surprises, in fact, when one digs into the material. It proves the long knowledge of natural gas in the Delaware River Basin and parts of the Susquehanna River Basin where some folks think there is none. It also demonstrates the long-time use of fracking in these regions.
Old Fracking Data Indicates Fracking Is Nothing New
First, as a matter of full disclosure let note the information below contains data I am far from an expert in interpreting. I am only giving you the facts as they appear in the old records. I do not wish to raise false hopes and expectations, nor create a land rush based on what I’ve found. I am, nonetheless, cautiously optimistic this data will help people understand exactly what lies beneath their feet in our beautiful region. I leave it to the geologists and petroleum engineers to decipher the nitty gritty details.
I plan, at some point in the near future, to give a copy of this data to the Lackawanna College School of Petroleum and Natural Gas. The mud logs, lithologic/gamma ray logs, drillers and supervisors’ notes should be easily accessible and made available to anyone who is as curious and fascinated by the local history, geology, hydraulic fracking technology and natural gas industry as I am.
The proximity of our Northeastern Pennsylvania region to the major East Coast energy, heating, and transportation markets made this area very attractive to oil companies for exploration beginning in the 1950’s. My neighbors to the east in Jefferson Township and into South Canaan near our old family dairy farm, had leased their land to Mobil since the early 1960’s. There was even drilling near Varden in 1961 and some of my family members still talk about sitting on top of our milk house roof to watch the drilling rig work the earth before and after milking the cows.
It was quite a curiosity back in the day, but didn’t bother anyone, most viewing it as just another natural resource harvesting project, not unlike logging of the back 40 on the farm. Some family members jokingly describing those days as the “Beverly Hillbilly days.” This well didn’t produce oil, though, and the novelty soon wore off.
All these folks really wanted was something that might alleviate some of the financial misery and back breaking labor associated with running a farm, working the coal mines and labor at the other activities required just to make a living. My family had come to to the area chasing coal, and cows, just prior to the turn of the last century. They came from the regions of Spiš Slovakia and Perugia Italy.
Coal back then was what helped fulfill the hopes and dreams for my family and many others in this region, much like what Marcellus Shale is doing for many others today. Both natural resources have served as a means to an end which offered security, stability and longevity. Today’s natural gas, however, is much cleaner to develop and use, has a tiny footprint when compared to coal and we have the expertise to do it without hurting the environment. Natural gas is cleaning up the environment in fact by replacing coal power plants with an energy source that lowers emissions by as much as 99.98% in some cases.
The data I discovered is full of little surprises that tell us a good deal about the potential of many areas for future natural gas production and generational royalty income. What is most interesting to me, though, is seeing the word “fraced” on reports from circa 1956-1959, proving there’s nothing new about fracking here or anywhere else. It has been done for nearly 60 years in a region where we never heard the word until half a century later.
An example is a well drilled in Springbrook, or “Moscow” as the report calls it, on the 92 acre George Schreiber farm. It was drilled over one year commencing in the Summer of 1958 and drilled down to a depth of 5,416 feet. This is in Lackawanna County and the terms “Frac” and “Hydra frack’ed” appears as clear as day in drilling supervisor’s notes and records accompanying the well log data. Interestingly, the records also indicate a “questionable gas blow out” at 4,866 feet and a gas show at 5,410 feet in the Tully Formation.
Historical Drilling and Fracking Data Key to Assessing Economic Potential
Most of the drilling companies of this era were exploring for oil, as shale had not been thought of as a commercially viable source of gas due to the “tightness” of the sediment, and the unconventional nature of how it had to be extracted. Despite this, the Schreiber well was just minutes away from the Delaware/Susquehanna river basin dividing line and, looking back from today’s perspective, could be a good indicator of future development potential. I’ll bet the folks around the North Pocono region would love to know their lands could possibly produce additional income from gas some day.
The presence of natural gas is hardly the only factor in determining whether an area gets developed. There must be an economically viable flow to make it worthwhile, as this good article articulates, plus there is a need for takeaway infrastructure and capacity. Penn State professor Terry Engelder, in fact, has frequently cited a “line of death” separating the viable from the non-viable gas areas. The line, of course, moves with pricing of the gas, and the technology and research that experience in a region can bring. It can also move with revised seismic and well test data as companies learn how to extract from multiple formations using the same well.
Years ago, no one, for instance, thought the Marcellus was anything but roughly 472 feet of dark shale (similar thicknesses have been discovered at Newfield’s Teeple site in Northern Wayne County and Cabot’s Springville, Susquehanna County site) that must be drilled through to reach other formations. Then horizontal drilling came along and made it possible to hydraulically fracture more efficiently, resulting in the shale gas boom.
That is what happened in Pennsylvania beginning in the early 2000’s Leasing, exploratory drilling, then full blown production started in earnest around 2005. This development gradually moved from Southwestern Pennsylvania northeast to the Northern Tier and the Delaware River, from New York down towards Wilkes-Barre and even as far south as Pike and Monroe County. Leasing and production work then retracted from our region much like a wave on a beach does, due to a lack of Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) regulations that would permit it. Nevertheless, the combination of new 3D seismic imaging with historic data suggests the potential for another boom in the Delaware River basin portions of our region once regulations are finally approved.
The Marcellus Shale comes to the surface near the Delaware River in Pike and Monroe Counties. I know that geologists from the UK and major gas companies took samples in early 2007 and simulated a frack in their lab. The results were that commercially viable shale was thought to exist just a few miles north of there and Route I-84. Utica and Trenton formations may be also extractable in places south of there as you will learn more about later in this article. The same is true near Allentown and Stroudsburg where other shale types come to the surface and are presently under study by a multitude of geologists. That puts Northern Pike and Southern Wayne counties into the “possible” exploration window at an estimate of $5.50 to $8.50 USD /MMBtu or higher (presently around $4.50).
Northern Wayne County, I learned from the major drillers in 2010, from Route 371 north, would have been “commercially developed,unitized and producing already even at $2.50 MMBtu,” had it not all been halted by a DRBC led and cowed by radical environmentalists. The area from Route 371 South to Honesdale could have been developed if gas was consistently over $5.00.
That’s the tragedy here. The people who have halted this development in the Delaware River Basin aren’t from here, they didn’t grow up here and they do not care a single bit about our lives, or how hard it is to sustain a comfortable living when all you have is your land as your major asset. All the anti drillers have done is speak longer and louder than we do to down state journalists and sympathetic urban legislators.
We are left in the Delaware River basin with few choices and many of my friends and neighbors are in a perpetual state of pastoral poverty living paycheck to paycheck, while just over the hills the job and prosperity are palpable. A rural ecotourism business model cannot sustain a living wage in our area as the anti-drillers would have us believe. That being said what does offer excitement and lifts the entrepreneurial spirit in this region is the hope of trickle up gas well economics. Nothing makes that clearer than reading this data and there’s much more of it.
Greene Township, Pike County, for example, was the site of a TransCo well in the Delaware River Basin. It had a “SSG“ (Small Show Gas) at 2,608 feet and then a “SG” (Show Gas) at 3,879 feet that lasted for “10 minutes.” Likewise, the 1971 Texaco well which was drilled on state forest land in Blooming Grove Township, Pike County, said there was a “VSSO” (Very Small Show) at “3,420, 3,470 and 3,490 feet in a sandy shale.” There was also a “small gas show at 12,990” feet in the Ordovican shale AND at 13,650 to 13,810 in the Utica and Trenton formations there were “small gas shows on gas logger.”
The most exciting data was that the mud logs associated with the latter well also show the “possibility of Interstitial asphaltic oil,” otherwise known as “heavy” oil or asphalt. That asphalt layer has been a historic marker for gas migration to the upper layers in other well drilled regions of the world. Also, from 11,000 to 13,000 feet there were numerous gas “kicks” and much stronger gas “”shows” ranging from 10 to over 100 units.
Given the incredible advances in extraction technology since this well was drilled, landowners in this area might want to know there are oil and gas beneath their feet. The data strongly suggests there is.
Drilling and Fracking Data Tell Us What’s Being Taken
I wonder what the folks at the Pinchot Institute a mere four miles away from this well and their allies at the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and William Penn Foundation might extrapolate from this knowledge? More nonsensical regulation, more mayfly studies and more study of every kind will, I’m sure, be demanded. After all, they make their money principally by scaring people with hypothetical doom and gloom disaster scenarios, flooding the press with hysteria.
That is why this historical well data needs to be widely shared and discussed, to put the focus back where it really belongs on the resource and its value. The only reason a moratorium on drilling is still in place is to subvert landowner property rights to this resource until more permanent measures can be developed to prevent its development altogether. The proposed off-the-charts regulations and knee jerk proposals such as the Delaware River Protection (now Conservation) Act from the likes of Senators Casey and Schumer are designed with this in mind–to “protect” the river basin from property owners like us.
The DRBC was supposed to be studying the science behind hydraulic fracturing during the moratorium. Instead, it has been busy figuring out sneaky ways, via grants and “stakeholder” conferences in Philadelphia about land use regulation in the Upper Delaware region (where not a single landowner up here was invited to speak or attend), to deny farmers and landowners their property rights and to garner control of their lands without ownership. All they have done under moratorium is think up new ways to regulate, buy out and litigate drilling out of the basin. It stinks.
Accordingly, landowners need to know the real facts of what lies beneath them. Range Resources’ map of Wayne County (or should I say where King Fisher’s recent 3D seismic ends at the Wayne County border near Starrucca) shows major fairway potential even though the map was incomplete and is based solely on Range’s estimate.
SouthWestern (SWN) also has spent major funds on seismic in the upper syncline areas towards the New York State border. The red and orange may extend north, south, or east by more than 30 miles in any direction. The Cabot “giant well parade” almost surely extends into Wayne County in a Northeast direction along the periphery of the Lackawanna Synclinorium.
It’s outer edges and center may also be harvested at some point in time to the East, and potentially in the center via coal bed methane. Inclines, synclines and anti-clines historically have good potential around their boundaries in any direction a few miles away from the high pressure zones, as well as the mean in between coal seams or valleys.
Picture the North American plate hitting the African plate some 400+ million years ago and forming the Moosic Mountain section off the Appalachian plateau. These mountains of eons ago were said to be higher than the Himalayas. The valley in between was under such extreme pressure that it formed coal beds from Hazelton to Forest City. The gas that has migrated upwards and may be contained in the Utica, Trenton, Marcellus, Tully, Purcell or Rhine Street layers must be explored and each layer valued for their extraction potential.
The data from some of the wells in this article prove that not all the gas has been “cooked off” as many have speculated in the past. Anything less than exploration of all these layers of shale , limestone and slate may put this country back at the mercy of our energy enemies from the Middle East, Venezuela, China and, especially, Russia. All of these interests send propagandist journalists here to fuel the anti-fracking debate. If it were up to me I’d frack every layer of shale all the way down to 20,000 feet just to see what would happen in the lab.
All manufacturing around the globe migrates towards cheap sources of fuel. We are sitting on up to seven layers of commercial grade shale right here in and around the Lackawanna Valley and points northeast and west.
What Does the Fracking Data Tell Us About What’s Next?
Who knows what’s next? No one, but we do know the presence of the gas may signify some future potential and, therefore, it’s worth knowing about. Likewise, the historical record of fracking without negative consequences is a powerful reminder of why it’s always best “to keep your head” and not surrender to the hysteria of the moment. The successful early record of hydraulic fracturing isn’t something that took place far away in Texas several decades ago and then moved here recently. It’s been going on for decades here as well.
Do the residents of Newton and RansomTownship, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, for example, realize a gas well was developed there as early as 1957? Well, yes, Transcontinental Production Company drilled a well there in late 1957 that yielded 29 Mcf of natural gas before fracking and 78 Mcf after (see below). The reporting form, already, at this early time, listed fracturing as a normal process. The well was drilled to a depth of only 3,925 feet with gas showings at 1,206 feet, 1,594 feet, 2,305 feet and 2,934 feet.
It didn’t reach the Marcellus Shale in other words, but there was gas at four levels on the way down and vertical fracking of the well more than doubled the output. It wasn’t enough and the well was abandoned, but what we learn is this; a) methane is naturally occurring at relatively shallow depths, b) there are multiple formations showing gas, and c) fracking was in use in Northeast Pennsylvania 57 years ago. And, no one remembers.
Transco also drilled a well in adjoining Ransom Township, Lackawanna County in 1957. The Ransom well showed gas from 2,017 feet on down but, once again, wasn’t drilled down to the Marcellus Shale. It, too, was fracked, resulting in a quadrupling of gas production. It wasn’t enough to be viable but that was before horizontal drilling, multiple formation wells, or the Marcellus Shale. In 1956 there was also over 9,000 Mcf of gas pumped from the Richards farm in Ransom from 2,600 feet in “sandy limestone”. Similar results came from 4,825 feet in the Tully, and 7,564 in the Helderberg layer of shale.
Not far away at the Phillip Stoft farm in Newton Township, a well had seven gas shows and the mud logger recorded 160 Mcf at 2,905 feet (the deepest show). At the Ellsworth LaCoe farm in May of 1957 there were also six shows of gas from 1,341 to 2,880 feet, two of which were considered “good shows” in slate lime sand and shell stones. The strongest was 200 Mcf. Then, we move over to the John D. Ward farm in Newton in February of 1958 with a “water frac & sand shot” at 3,861 feet. The most reported shallow gas shows were on the 116 acre Stanley Kenia farm in Newton with 14 gas shows between 1,200 and 3,500 feet.
The longest producing well seemed to be on the George Suprick farm in Ransom with the logger producing 6,750,000 cubic feet in total. That would heat quite a few homes for a long time.
There are numerous other wells that were drilled in Wayne County during the 1940’s through 1960’s. Most have gas shows and only one did not have any on the driller’s log. Some were drilled more than two miles deep. They include several old wells in Damascus, Dyberry and Manchester Townships (including one on Paint Mine Road in Damascus within sight of the Delaware River). Most of those had gas shows and one even had a mysterious “O.F” I speculate that it may mean “OIL FOUND” as it’s been rumored by leaks from industry insiders and even from a seismic crew from Dawson some years ago.
If Cabot were to extend their well line along the current northeast direction it would appear to extend from Herrick Center right through Wayne County. Hess, interestingly, has not dropped some of these leases in that area as once thought and kept other leases as well. The line certainly extends just a few miles off the Lackawanna Synclinorium and goes north and east from there.
We have also seen shows from Stone Energy’s Matoushek #1 well in Pleasant Mount and Chesapeake’s Robson well in Oregon Township (4 miles north of Honesdale). Both show MAJOR gas spikes in their gamma ray and mud logs from 6,700 feet to 8,200 feet. That is where the Marcellus layers lie and even those layers are separated into top, middle and bottom. Some have a Purcell streak in them which may be organically rich and ripe for fracking if the porosity and thermal maturity allows for it.
Most drillers currently are only going horizontal into the lower Marcellus layer right now and getting their best results. Others have recently tapped into the upper Marcellus and we’ll have to wait and see what happens just over the county line, but it’s been told to me the results were “almost as good as the lower Marcellus.”
One other clue to our geology in Northern Wayne County is the Hess Davidson well in Scott Township just a few miles from the NYS border. That well had so much in the way of “methane bubbles” seeping up through the cement plugs upon abandoning procedures that it had to be done twice. That is as clear as day in the DEP reports. What does that say about a simple non-fracked vertical exploratory well? It tells me there may be a whole lot more gas down there waiting to be collected and burned in the homes and apartments of East Coast residents.
What does all this tell us? Well, not a great deal in terms of current viability, but they all demonstrate there is natural gas down there and it’s not confined to the Marcellus Shale. Will it be viable at some point? We can’t know without further drilling using the most modern techniques and exploratory testing. We must also keep in mind some of these areas may never be lucrative to drillers if the regulatory climate is unknown, gas is too close to the water table, or commercial quantities can’t be realized after stimulation techniques have been tried.
We need to frack some wells to get a handle on real capacity. Much of the earlier drilling was done with drilling muds that tended to obscure some gas shows and the early fracking was vertical only. This old drilling and fracking data does tell us enough to know we need to explore the resource and test it further but, unfortunately, we are held back by an incompetent and highly politicized DRBC that probably should be abolished, but that’s a subject for another post.