MOUNDSVILLE, W.Va. — When drillers began fracking Marcellus shale natural gas wells in Ohio and Marshall counties a few years ago, they regularly used about 4 million gallons of water and 1 million pounds of sand for each project.
Now, a new report shows that producers working in the “wet gas window” of Ohio and Marshall counties are using up to 10 million gallons of water and 13 million pounds of sand for wells costing as much as $10 million each.
Wood Mackenzie, a firm providing commercial intelligence for global energy markets, assembled the data. The report shows sand usage for wells in Ohio and Marshall counties increased 58 percent between 2012 and 2013 alone.
“Using more sand and water has allowed us to be able to get a larger return,” Corky Demarco, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, said of the work in the Northern Panhandle.
Demarco said working in the Marcellus shale – particularly the wet zone stretching across the two counties – is a constant learning experience.
“We are learning as we go along with this formation. I don’t know that is going to change for a while. We are trying different things, especially in that wet area,” Demarco said.
Demarco said drillers are extending their horizontal laterals farther into the Marcellus formation, which calls for more sand and water.
A recent Gastar Exploration report shows the company is averaging 5,000-foot long laterals in Marshall County.
“We are forcing more sand and more water in their to keep the cracks open,” he said.
At approximately $10 million, Demarco said the most expensive well on a drilling pad is the first one because of the related construction costs.
He said additional wells drilled on the same pad usually run from $4 million to $6 million each.
All of the extra sand and water must be transported to the well sites via truck, while the briny wastewater left over from the frack job must be taken to disposal, unless drillers are recycling it.
“We are constantly working to recycle more of the water,” Demarco said. “We don’t want to have to use all these trucks any more than people want them to be out there taking up the roads.”