Can natural gas development take place near a county park? Do we know enough to make sure it’s safe?
These are questions being asked, and rightfully so, about a Range Resources lease agreement presented to Allegheny County Council. The lease proposes to develop natural gas beneath Deer Lakes Park from a private property outside the park’s borders.
Understandably, many have expressed a desire to ensure that this process is completed in a safe and sound manner. We pledge to all Pennsylvanians to produce this resource responsibly, while utilizing proven industry best practices, many developed by Range. But we hope that our actions and accomplishments speak louder than our words.
The proposed drilling location already has four natural gas wells on the property that were drilled and “fracked” in 2005, 2006, 2008 and, most recently, in 2009 by Huntley & Huntley. Range has successfully drilled nearly 20 wells, identical to the proposed wells, near Deer Lakes since 2009, and the industry has drilled more than 100 wells near the park over the last decade. That activity will continue for years to come.
Similarly, we have drilled more than 30 wells under Washington County’s Cross Creek Park with great, collaborative success. That park is now largely financially self-sustaining — potentially for generations — and has incredible amenities, including new wildlife habitats, special needs access and improved roads, parking lots, walking trails, trees, pavilions and much more.
Developing shale gas utilizes state-of-the-art technologies that were first developed 65 years ago and applied together and at scale over the last 30 years. Thanks to horizontal drilling, we can tap exponentially more natural gas with a dramatically reduced surface footprint.
Wells in Western Pennsylvania travel approximately one mile beneath the surface and stretch in multiple directions, like spokes from a wheel. This typically allows us to develop one to two square miles of subsurface gas while using less than 1 percent of the surface.
At Deer Lakes, we have the ability to run several five-and-one-half-inch pipes a mile and a half under the park from private property without impacting the park’s surface. The wells are constructed in a manner best designed for Pennsylvania’s geology, which include multiple layers of steel and cement to isolate the well and to protect groundwater.
The drilling process can last from several months to about one year, not including our internal planning process, which is developed over several years. Once completed, wells produce gas for decades. They are remotely monitored and controlled by trained experts and typically are inspected on a daily basis. State regulators are closely engaged throughout the entire process and require thousands of pages of documentation and permits before our work begins.
Range drilled the first Marcellus well a decade ago in Washington County, now the largest producing field in the nation. If the Marcellus were a country, it would be the 7th-largest natural-gas producing nation in the world.
The industry has drilled more than 7,000 horizontal shale wells across the commonwealth, many in southwestern Pennsylvania. Range has more than 500 producing Marcellus wells and 4,000 traditional wells. All told, more than 55,000 wells are now producing natural gas in Pennsylvania, second most in the country.
Range is proud to have been the first company to disclose the makeup of our hydraulic fracturing fluids on a per-welltransparency. We pioneered large-scale water recycling and have maintained nearly 100 percent recycling levels since 2009. We have developed a number of air-quality protocols for both increased safety and environmental protection. And we helped introduce to Pennsylvania “closed-loop drilling,” which means the rock and soil we dig up is not just buried in pits on site, as has been customary in the commonwealth for generations, but instead is delivered to approved landfills.
These breakthroughs and many others are now widespread and encouraged or required by regulators. Our culture and commitment is why Range consistently ranks on a per-well basis as among the safest and most regulation-compliant natural gas companies in Pennsylvania, even as the industry as a whole operates at a very high level.
We’re not going to tell you that we would have heightened standards for drilling near Deer Lakes Park. We have one standard: the highest. All of the time. But we have been able in our work with Allegheny County to establish a number of site-specific enhancements, including expanded monitoring of water, developing a light and sound engineering analysis and abatement program, and hosting job and career fairs in the community.
As always, Range will work with community stakeholders, nearby residents and local officials to ensure our operations are conducted as efficiently as possible and to keep everyone updated on operational milestones. We will also work to avoid school bus routes and coordinate with first responders.
As part of the proposed lease, Range worked with the county to establish a $3 million park improvement fund, in addition to the $4.7 million up-front lease payment. Future royalties could generate tens of millions of dollars for the county, which could help to make our parks financially sustainable.
While the economic benefits are important, they must not — and will not — come at the expense of the environment or of our communities. In fact, the royalties will help to ensure that our parks can flourish for future generations.
John Applegath is senior vice president of Range Resources’ southern Marcellus Shale division and lives in Cecil (rangeresources.com).