An Exciting Trip to Tour Unconventional Oil and Gas Wells

This semester’s Geology of Energy Resources course, which focuses on how fossil fuels form, are extracted, and are used, had the opportunity to visit two unconventional oil and gas wells run by Ascent Resources located in southeastern Ohio this week. While most people in the Appalachian Basin think of the Marcellus Shale when it comes to natural gas, this area of Ohio targets the underlying Upper Ordovician Utica Shale.

The trip started with an early morning drive from Wooster down to Salesville Ohio, to visit an unconventional well that was in the final stages of the drilling process. As the vans neared the location the top of a tall metal structure was visible over the trees and an excited murmuring amongst the students began. As the vans pulled up to the gate the group was surprised to see towering walls surrounding the well pad with the top of the drill rig just visible.

After a warm greeting by our hosts each person was outfitted with their own PPE including the ever-stylish blue fire-resistant coveralls, hard hats, and safety glasses (as seen in the first picture and the photo below) and given a safety briefing. What was originally planned as a one-hour tour of this well quickly turned into an almost two-hour tour as there was so much to see and learn, and all the employees even while working were eager to explain and show the students each component of the well drilling process. Students learned that the walls were to block the sound of the drilling process which continues 24/7 until the well is drilled which takes 1-2 weeks from start to finish. Guides walked the group through each stage of the drilling process allowing the students to touch and see the drill pipe, well casings, drill bits, and more. All the while the rig was pulling up drill pipe piece by piece with a rumbling whirr, dropping it into the guiding rails with a loud clang before it was transported to pallets ready to be moved to the next drill site. The group even got to go up onto the derrick of the drill rig and watch the drill pipe being removed from the well up close, which is a very muddy process. By the end of the tour there were no clean shoes (as shown above), but everyone was in great spirits and were eager to see the next well pad.

A short drive later the group arrived at the second well pad which contained four actively producing well heads. This location was in sharp juxtaposition to the loud, crowded, muddy, and constantly moving drilling site. Here there was a solid layer of coarse gravel and distinct areas with machinery and pipes with large spaces in between for vehicles to pass through and little to no mud, though the smell of off gassing from the compressors carried on the air. The no less enthusiastic tour guides at this location walked the group through the plethora of safety measures present at the well pad to ensure worker health, but also protect the environment. Students followed the process from the well heads where the oil and gas exit the well, through the 3-phase separator which isolates oil, gas, and water, to the pipeline which carries the gas to processing facilities, and finally to compressors and storage tanks for the oil. As the temperature began to drop toward the end of the tour and stomachs began grumbling, the tour wrapped up.

Despite the chilly temperature, the group enjoyed a late picnic lunch at Salt Fork State Park, along the shores of Salt Fork Lake. Even as everyone dug into their lunch the discussion was on everything they had seen and heard throughout the day. Finally, everyone hopped back in the vans to warm up and drive back to campus. The discussions continued during the first part of the drive until students began to doze off from the combination of an early morning, exciting but busy day, and the cold weather with a warm car.

Students will be writing a report about the trip and will also be using the information they gained in a class debate regarding the potential pros and cons of oil and gas wells.

About Rebecca Matecha

Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at the College of Wooster. I focus on the interactions of water and rock through isotope geochemistry, subsurface fluid flow, and STEM teaching pedagogy.
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One Response to An Exciting Trip to Tour Unconventional Oil and Gas Wells

  1. Mark Wilson says:

    What a great trip, Dr. Matecha! I know there was MUCH planning in this unique opportunity for our students. Thank you! Nice images and prose to memorialize the experience.

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