Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Efforts to test Marcellus in upstate NY produces leaky well Carrizo crews on site to fix casing problem in Owego

Service rig at leaky Marcellus well in Town of Owego NY
Photo provided 
A Houston company’s pioneering venture into the Marcellus Shale in upstate New York has produced a leaky gas well that the company is trying to fix before abandoning the project or turning it over to another company.

A service crew is now working on the Wetterling Well in the Town of Owego after state inspectors found gas leaking from the ground between the bedrock and the cement casing last fall. Carrizo Oil and Gas drilled the vertical well in October to test the Marcellus Shale. The formation, one of the largest gas reserves in the world, runs from upstate New York through Pennsylvania and into parts of Ohio, West Virginia, and Maryland. Carrizo began the project in the Town of Owego even though New York state is not issuing permits for the kind of horizontal drilling and high volume hydraulic fracturing necessary for commercial production. The permitting moratorium is tied to a review of health and environmental impacts by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, now in its fifth year, and a growing protest movement against shale gas development in New York state.

Problems were first confirmed at the Wetterling well on Oct. 25, according to DEC records, when an inspector, responding to updates from company representatives, found levels of combustible gas leaking from the well bore. The leak averaged about 20 cubic feet per day and was coming from somewhere between the cement casing and the ground – an area known as the annulus.  According to the records, a company representative asked the agency last fall if it would be “OK to abandon the well with a vent pipe.”

The DEC inspector, who is not identified by name on paperwork released in response to a Freedom of Information Request to an area resident, reported in notes:

I told him that I did not know and the New York has no specific guidelines about the matter. I went on to say that I have seen other companies re-entering wells of their own accord to fix small leaks. We agreed to continue monitoring the well and that Carrizo would submit an interim plugging report…

The DEC is updating regulations for shale gas as part of the environmental review, called the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS). In February and March, officials said they expected the report to be issued within weeks. More recently they have said there is no timetable for its completion.

Under current rules, New York state gas well inspectors have broad discretion in interpreting conditions and tailoring enforcement efforts for a given permit. The leak at the Wetterling well was allowed to continue over the winter, before the company began work to fix the problem this spring.

Richard Hunter, vice president of Investor Relations for Carrizo, confirmed that a service crew had set up a rig at the Wetterling site to attempt to locate exactly where gas was leaking from. Hunter explained that crews inserted audio equipment into the hole to listen for the leak – similar to listening for a leak in an inner tube. When they locate the spot, he said, they will “squeeze in more cement” to plug the void between the casing and the ground.

Methane leaks, and the extent to which they are disclosed, have caused major problems for the industry’s image in Pennsylvania. Chronic problems in Dimock, Pa. became a showcase for the anti-fracking movement after methane leaked from production wells into an aquifer used by area residents. The problem became apparent after one water well exploded in 2009, leading to greater public awareness of risks related to shale gas development. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has documented dozens of other cases of methane leaks from gas development, some of them fatal.

Industry officials say problems with methane migration from drilling are exaggerated, and point out that methane can leak into water naturally.

Hunter said the Owego well was drilled as part of a contract with a company that sold assets to Carrizo.  From the beginning, Carrizo planned to plug and abandon the well after testing it, Hunter said, although it could be an asset in future business deals. Carrizo is not likely to pursue development in New York given the regulatory uncertainty, he said. But another company might.

 “The thickness, rock quality and everything in the well was very encouraging, and the same kind of thing we are seeing in West Virginia where we are having success,” Hunter said.

Note: Area resident Gerri Wiley provided records obtained by the Freedom of Information Law from the DEC and a photograph for this report. Sue Heavenrich also reported on the well today on her blog, The Marcellus Effect 


  1. I see we're both writing about the same thing today! Thanks to Gerri. Makes one wonder, if they hadn't foiled the report, would Carrizo be back to plug this week? Also interesting that the FOIL was delayed till their confidential period was up.

    1. Great points, Sue. .. An example of effective citizen watchdogging
      And thanks for your excellent report and additional perspective at

    2. "...Dr. Anthony Ingraffea discusses gas well construction, hydrofracking, micro annular casing leaks, and more..."-

  2. Thank you Tom and Sue for writing about this, and a huge thank you to Gerri for being such a good citizen!

  3. Thank you to the Watch Wolves! It's a dirty job but we know the paid watch dogs are chewing on some tastie bone. What a nightmare! Another compressor "event" as if it were the circus and we should be thrilled to be under the big top or rather on top of the big rock!

    1. just can't wait to see if EID mentions the Carrizo site.

  4. The DEC inspector, who is not identified by name on paperwork released in response to a Freedom of Information Request to an area resident, reported in notes: "I told him that I did not know and the New York has no specific guidelines about the matter."

    Could be because the DEC oil and gas program is operating under regulations written in 1972. The GEIS (1992), the first guidelines for environmentally safe drilling, which were intended to up update these regulations, resulted in not one single new regulation.

  5. Two of many of my freak outs (deserved or not) about drilling in New York State and drilling in general:

    1) The Marcellus dips as all New Yorkers know, outcropping somewhere around Syracuse. The silly driller's PR flack cartoon of a subsurface layer cake showing the productive zone (shale), the aquifer and the surface separated by a mile to 7,000 feet below grade is completely false. The Marcellus shale is about 3,000 to 4,000 feet at the southern border of NYS and 0 feet of course at outcropping. Here's a really cool description of the Marcellus by the NYS Dept of Agriculture showing north/south and east/west cross sections of the subsurface:

    2) Shale and other subsurface rock gets more weathered (i.e. crumbly) as it gets closer to the surface. I'm assuming well completion gets more problematic to "seal" in this situation. I'm not sure how they can seal or plug a well for abandonment to a certifiable degree of certainty. Is there a petroleum geologist or driller in the house to help me?

    My interest in Marcellus both practical and political is universal and local because of plans for developing the New Albany shale in Illinois.

    1. Michael: There are some parts of NY where the Marcellus is more like 5,000-6,000 feet deep and a small area where it's about 7,000 feet deep. That being said, you have identified one of the issues that drives me crazy, because the industry likes to talk about this supposed one-mile separation from the aquifers, and I've encountered a lot of people who thought that fracking in PA and NY would occur at depths in excess of 10,000 feet!

      But as you point out, the Marcellus in NY is not really all that deep, particularly as one heads north. The proposed regs (which were not adopted, but which probably provide a good model for what likely will be adopted if NY unwisely decides to permit fracking for shale gas) did limit drilling to areas where the shale is at least 2,000 feet deep, which is not much comfort as far as I am concerned.

    2. Mary, you may want to check out the link I provided. There's not much shale in NYS below 4,000 feet bgs. The north/south cross section is fairly limited and may not represent the shale dip to the east part of NYS. However, here's a plan view showing depths contours (2,000 feet and greater) for all of the Marcellus:

    3. Michael, thanks for the additional link. I did look at (and was already familiar with) the depth map in your earlier link. I've seen the PSU map before too, although I don't think it turns up as often as the one from the earlier link. At any rate, the PSU map may be a better one to look at because it's more detailed.

      The Southern Tier of NY is the area most likely to be drilled, both for geological and political reasons, and much of it is lying between the 4000-feet and 5000-feet bgs lines. Here's a link to the Wikipedia page for the Southern Tier--there's a map there showing the core and peripheral counties of the Southern Tier:

      The counties most likely to be heavily drilled are probably Broome, Chemung, and Tioga--there are about 300,000 people living in those three counties.

      Also, the Utica Shale is another potential target, and it is deeper than the Marcellus.

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