First Well Drilled For Massive Salt Cavern
After years of litigation over what will be the largest salt
cavern storage project in the Northeast, NiSource subsidiary Market
Hub Partners (MHP) finally has completed its first cavern well on
the Tioga Gas Storage project in northern Pennsylvania.
The Tioga project is due to commence commercial service in late
2002 or early 2003 and reach 5 Bcf of working capacity and 500
MMcf/d of deliverability by 2004. It is expected to be expanded to
15 Bcf of working capacity and 1.5 Bcf/d of deliverability over the
next 10 to 15 years.
The first of 10 massive 42-inch diameter wells through the
Oriskany sandstone formation to the thick salt deposits below took
four months to drill and reached a total depth of 6,000 feet last
week. "This is the largest well of its kind --- in terms of
well-bore diameter --- north of the Tennessee border and east of
the Mississippi," said NiSource Chairman Gary L. Neale. "Tioga will
change the way the Northeast pipeline grid operates because it will
become the largest high-deliverability gas storage facility in the
Northeast Market region. It will provide the market with a
just-in-time inventory of ready natural gas."
Able to quickly cycle 10 times the inventory of nearby reservoir
storage facilities, the Tioga facility will provide a new type of
service to a market with increasing demands for hourly flexibility
and peak day needs. Tioga initially will be connected at Ellisburg,
PA, to National Fuel, CNG, Tennessee, and is expected to be
connected to Columbia and Transco at a later date.
"Moving Tioga towards commercial reality has been a contentious
effort, but with the completion of the first well, we have fully
validated the project," said Andy Lang, president of EnergyUSA's
commodity business unit, which is responsible for MHP.
The project has faced stiff competition from other operators,
particularly CNG Transmission and North Penn Gas, which have
attempted to erect regulatory roadblocks every step of the way. CNG
and North Penn own a gas storage field in the Oriskany formation
directly above the salt caverns being leached for the Tioga
Project. CNG has long argued that drilling 42-inch diameter wells
directly through its own storage field would seriously damage its
operations. However, MHP geologists and engineers were able to
convince regulators the job could be done without damage to
existing storage operations or the environment. CNG has appealed
FERC's order, which rejected all of CNG's arguments opposing the
"I don't want to comment on what their arguments may be to the
U.S. District Court, but I do think many of their arguments will be
muted by virtue of the fact that we completed this well with no mud
loss in the Oriskany and no pressure gain or loss," said Lang. "It
was kind of a non-event, which we all knew it would be. People
drill through other people's producing horizons all the time. It's
done in the oil and gas production business routinely."
The first massive well contains 988 tons of telescoping steel
tubing and 723 tons of cement surrounded by thick salt crystals,
which provide a strong foundation for a high-pressure gas-delivery
system. Lang said the company went through a painstaking process to
monitor the drilling of the well to ensure there was no damage to
the CNG/North Penn storage field. "We did pressure monitoring. We
had to keep records on mud losses. We also had to drill with
26-inch casing through their field."
With the significant regulatory hurdles behind, MHP intends to
move rapidly to get the project in service in time to serve growing
gas-fired generation in the region.
Operations Vice President Dave Nightingale said the project will
significantly change the "gas delivery picture for the Northeast.
Most other traditional gas storage facilities have limited
capabilities that allow them to deliver an average of 0.1 Bcf of
gas per day. Once it is fully developed, Tioga will be able to
deliver up to 1.5 Bcf per day."