When Range Resources first began drilling horizontally in the Marcellus Shale, the average length of laterals was around 2,500 feet. Today, that length has increased to nearly 3 miles.
Horizontal drilling technology is one of the most important factors for the modern shale boom. Lateral wellbores allow companies like Range Resources to access large volumes of natural gas trapped within geologic formations from a single location. As drilling companies are able to drill laterals at increasingly longer lengths – they can access more natural gas with fewer wells and less disruption on the surface of the land.
Recently, Range Resources set a record for the longest laterals drilled in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. The company wasn't aiming for a record, only for greater efficiency and the best use of resources.
“What really kind of jumped off the page for us – is we were not aware what the record lateral length was in Pennsylvania,” says Cecil Township resident and Vice President of Drilling for Range's Appalachia Division, Don Robinson. “And it turned out that we were drilling the longest laterals to date in the Marcellus. The only other folks hitting that length were in the Utica in Ohio.”
Lateral lengths aren't decided by the Drilling team – it's Range's Planning & Development team who sets those parameters, based on where there is the greatest potential for pipeline capacity. Before they broke the current PA record, Range's longest laterals had come in around 11,000 feet, with the exception of one lateral that reached a length of 14,400. Once they hit 15,000 feet, they knew they'd broken a record for Range, but didn't realize they had now surpassed every other driller in PA. Careful research by Drilling Engineer Pat Quinn revealed the truth.
“Longer laterals are becoming the norm in the industry,” says Quinn. But it's a strategy that also requires careful consideration. “It calls for constant monitoring of our best practices.”
For communities that benefit from natural gas drilling, longer laterals can mean more natural gas production from fewer locations. Drilling Engineering Manager Josh Doak is looking at the opportunities that drilling longer laterals presents for Range, and for the communities in which Range operates. “You can be more strategic on where you place the pad, and it also potentially means fewer topholes because with the ability drill longer laterals, you can access gas underground that previously would have required additional vertical drilling. This strategy shrinks our environmental footprint even more than before, and gives us more options for accessing the natural gas rich shale formations in the region.”
Canon-MacMillan graduate Mike Spartz was the Drilling Engineer overseeing the well site in Somerset Township where the record-setting laterals were drilled. “The geology in this area has always been tricky, but we have a world class team who helped to pull this off,” says Spartz. “Achieving this goal showed us that we could do it. The entire team did an amazing job.”
In the meantime, while Range Resources is proud of the record-setting achievement, the Drilling group is already looking ahead at new technology and additional milestones to further improve operations and efficiencies. “Careful planning, evaluations, rig upgrades and new directional tools will be part of the process,” says Robinson, “along with dedicated engineers who are devoted to industry best practices and operating safely.”
This article is sponsored by Range Resources.