What is the difference between conventional and unconventional wells?
Conventional oil and gas is found in shallow formations throughout western PA. Conventional wells have a small footprint, the gas is produced at low pressure, and is used to supply local communities. Unconventional oil and gas is found in dense shale formations, deep underground. The gas in the unconventional formations is released by a combination of horizontal drilling and high volume-high pressure hydrofracturing. Unconventional operations have a large footprint, the gas is produced at high pressure, and is transported around the nation via large high-pressure pipelines.
Conventional wells are small installations. The site needs at a conventional well are flexible; thus, the well site can be adapted to existing site terrain. This flexibility significantly reduces site disturbance and thus erosion and sedimentation. Once construction is completed, conventional well sites are almost entirely restored, leaving only a single wellhead, pumpjack and other necessary equipment, and enough space to service and maintain the well.
An orphan well is one that was abandoned prior to April 18, 1985, that has not been affected or operated by the present owner or operator and from which the present owner, operator or lessee has received no economic benefit other than as a landowner or recipient of a royalty interest from the well. There are millions of abandoned wells all across America. They are a problem because as they age, they deteriorate. As orphan wells deteriorate they can leak oil and gas.
In 2016 the EPA reported that estimates of abandoned onshore wells range from 2.3 to 3 million of which 720,000 are known to be plugged with an unknown number of unreported plugged wells. Known unplugged wells include wells with Inactive, Dry, and Abandoned status. Wells with unknown status include Active producing and injection wells (uneconomic to produce), and Shut In wells.
Edwin Drake first struck oil in Titusville, PA in 1859. This unleashed the great changes of the industrial age, and today, oil powers over 90% of the world’s transportation. The drilling of wells has also changed greatly: Drake's well was drilled at a rate of three feet per day whereas today’s drilling rigs are able to drill thousands of feet per day. Thousands of wells are drilled worldwide each year. In 2017, an estimated 16,900 oil and gas wells were drilled in the United States alone.
How do you develop a new conventional oil and gas well?
Developing a new well requires the collaboration of several teams. Before a well is drilled, the location must be surveyed and permitted with the DEP. The roustabout crew must then prepare the location for the drilling crew. The drilling rig drills a hole through the oil and gas bearing sandstones, which are usually located between 800 and 2000 feet below the surface. The drilling crew installs steel pipe surrounded by cement in order to contain the oil and gas. The well is usually stimulated by injecting water and sand; the gas is transported by pipelines to homes, hospitals, schools and businesses. The oil is trucked to the refinery.
A well's best day is its first day. Without drilling new wells, an oil field's production declines in a process known as depletion. Even with renewable energy sources like wind and solar, humans will always need oil and gas. In fact, despite the growth of renewable energy source, worldwide consumption of oil and gas continues to climb.
Oil and natural gas are used in our everyday lives for everything from our water bottles, shirts, and cars to our lights, vegetables, and medicines. Natural gas is the source of the world’s fertilizer. While humans will inevitably need to find alternative sources of energy, the infrastructure in developed countries is designed for oil and natural gas and will require extensive modifications to be suitable for alternatives such as wind and solar. Moreover, the alternatives of wind and solar are intermittent, meaning they only work when the wind blows and sun shines; oil, natural gas, and coal are used to fill the large gaps left by intermittent solar and wind.
Within the Commonwealth, the operations of the conventional oil and gas wells generate an estimated $1.4 billion in total annual economic impact. The activity of the conventional oil and gas industry supports an estimated 5,600 jobs with $241 million in earnings in the Commonwealth. Of that total employment impact, 4,700 jobs with $185 million in earnings are supported within a 19-County Region.