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MSC Issues Best Practices for Drilling, Completions

With production, takeaway capacity and employment all on the rise in the Appalachian Basin, the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) on Wednesday issued a list of recommended practices for drilling and completing oil and natural gas wells in the play.

The four-page document was developed through MSC working committees and designed to guide operators. The recommendations cover planning, health/safety, well control; high pressure equipment; drilling operations, and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and flowback operations. The latest is one of a best practices series that MSC officials have published for more than a year (see Shale Daily, Aug. 29, 2012; July 19, 2012; April 30, 2012).

"While a host of critically important steps are required to bring a shale well into production, the drilling phase and hydraulic fracturing and completions process are certainly two of the most crucial," said MSC CEO Kathryn Klaber. "This guidance document, along with [Pennsylvania's] world-class regulatory framework, will help further ensure that these important operations are carried out safely, responsibly and efficiently, and in a way that makes certain we continue to get this historic opportunity right, both now and for generations to come."

Although the MSC conceded regulatory requirements and local ordinances varied by location and planning decisions often centered on the duration of activity at a drilling site, it encouraged operators to make plans for water management, traffic and waste management such as maximizing the recycle/reuse of produced water, giving consideration to alternative water sources (i.e. reclaimed mine water; effluent), multi-well pad drilling, and using closed-loop fluid management systems. The MSC also recommended operators "consider developing and using more environmentally benign ingredients in [drilling] fluids and minimizing the volume of additives used, to the extent practicable."

Operators were also encouraged to address air emission, noise and visual impacts from drilling. Those issues have been cited by some localities that have mounted a legal challenge to Act 13, the state's omnibus Marcellus Shale law (see Shale Daily, Aug. 9). "Particular attention [should be] paid near congested settings, potentially sensitive receptors, or occupied buildings. Well operations have phases that must be continued on a 24-hour basis and therefore lighting is required for the safety of site workers. Efforts should be made to direct lighting so that it does not shine into occupied buildings."

On health and safety, operators should ensure all personnel at a drilling site have appropriate training and equipment in the event of an emergency, and that a representative from the operator company be on-site through all drilling and completion operations.

The MSC recommended that on the issue of well control, operators should, when feasible, maintain two mechanical barriers in the flow path of wellbore fluids during all drilling and completion operations. Operators also should determine whether there are coal mines, workable coal seams or older oil or gas wells that might impact drilling or the depth of groundwater.

"Operators should drill through fresh groundwater only with air, water, or water-based drilling fluids, to the extent reasonably practicable," the MSC said. "The surface (or shallowest) casing string should be installed at sufficient depth to protect fresh groundwater and be in compliance with regulations."

A full disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking fluids, with caveats, was also recommended. "Operators should commit to transparency in their operations by disclosing the composition of [fracking] fluid additives to the extent permitted by suppliers, while respecting related intellectual property rights, and proprietary and confidential business information."

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