Marcellus Shale

NWPOA’s Cabot Oil & Gas Tour: A Lesson in Shale Gas Safety

Betty Sutliff
Wayne County Landowner and Member of Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance

On Tuesday, July 3rd, several members of NWPOA, along with some students from Lackawanna College accompanied by their instructor,  were granted the privilege of touring a working rig site in Dimock, Pennsylvania.   Rig tour attire included a hardhat, safety goggles, and boots. 

So, on the day of our visit, I had to slip my painted toes into steel toes as you can see from the picture below:

Pink Toes Become Steel Toes

The Tour Begins

After a detailed explanation at headquarters from the natural gas experts, we were off.

Our crew at Cabot headquarters in Dimock.  That’s Bob Rutledge and me on the right.

Our first stop was at Cabot’s compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling station.  Cabot has already started to convert its fleet and plans to convert its drilling operations to CNG next year.  Others in the industry, including contractors and suppliers, are expressing interest in doing likewise.

Cabot Compressed Natural Gas Refueling Station
Cabot Compressed Natural Gas Refueling Station

Water Treatment Facility

The second stop, the one that fascinated all of us the most, was at a water treatment facility.  Everywhere we walked there were mats down to insure no spills ever reached the ground.  There we were able to observe murky flowback water turn crystal clear before our very eyes!

Untreated Water at Cabot Treatment Facility

Water Sample Under Treatment

Simple science, kitchen chemistry – a little of this and a drop of that – caused the heavy metals to precipitate out of the water and sink to the bottom of the glass beaker.   Curt Coccodrilli even stuck his little pinky in the flowback water and, believe it or not, his finger didn’t fall off!

Curt Coccodrili Putting Finger in Flowback Water

Curt's Finger Was Still Attached!

The large scale  version of this mini lab experiment was a dozen or more trailer loads of flowback water that was monitored by a computer.  We could see the exact stage that each trailer was in the treatment process.   All the trailers could be monitored from a remote location.  The incoming dirty water was in blue trailers and the cleansed, ready to reuse water was in the green trailers.  The reuse of the water helped to lower the amount of water being used for fracking and also greatly decreased the truck traffic on the roads.

Cabot Water Treatment Facility Monitoring Room
NWPOA Crew at Cabot Water Treatment Facility

One detail we learned that really excited Bob Rutledge, our NWPOA President, was the  fact dry waste material from the flowback water makes excellent fertilizer, and in other parts of the country farmers are permitted to spread it on their land. The future fertilizer simply sank to the bottom and could easily be turned into a compressed solid!

Solids from Waste Treatment Facility
Bob Rutledge Inspecting Dry Waste Material from Treatment

In an age of $1,000 a ton fertilizer, this could be a huge deal for local farmers if the material is safe for such use.  Curt agreed with Bob on that note.  It fascinated Curt that no one in Pennsylvania can yet make money from what is essentially a proven fertilizer used in many other states.  Instead it is classified as hazardous waste.  Curt compared it to the byproduct as a result of burning wood. The  ash from a fireplace could be classified as radioactive waste if you wished to take it that far,  but most of us prefer to just spread it out over our lawns,  gardens, or driveways after enjoying the heat of the fire.

Off to Rig #538

We were touched with an immense sense of  American pride upon arriving at the site of Cabot Rig #538 on July 3rd and seeing both the USA and Pennsylvania flags being flown from the massive rigging.  Here are some pictures:

Rig 538

U.S. Flag Flying from Rig 538

We were unable to venture onto the platform because the  crew was pulling up pipe.  Safety first!   Pipes, pipes, and more pipes were there for our inspection.  We were surprised to see just how small the diameters were and how little the curve needed to be in order to drill horizontally.

Cabot Pipe

Curt was especially pleased that Cabot listened intently to the possibility of manufacturing the machined metal piping, tubing and casing locally instead of outside of the state.  He hopes this will happen soon, in or near Scranton, at one of a few fabrication plants such as North American MFG.

Safety measures were abundant, but if all measures failed and there was a blowout, the crew was already prepared for that with a special vent system onsite.

Venting System

Being a person driven by detail, I would have to say  I was most impressed with Cabot’s regard for safety and environmental protection.   Many of the precautions were behind the scenes and explained by our incredibly knowledgeable guide, Bill DesRosiers.  All the employees we met were safety conscious about every last detail of their job and seemed to be focused like a laser on doing the task at hand with passion while keeping the land exactly as the landowner wanted before, during and after.  That meant a lot to us as landowners, since our main concern is for the health of our own properties.

Curt Coccodrilli Doing Some Post Tour Reflection

Thanks to all those who showed us a very informative and inspirational tour from top level management right down to the keeper of the multi-sized drill bits!   Everyone was helpful, forthright and thankful to be able to work in such a beautiful setting.  The whole experience was fascinating and educational.  We hope the two students from Lackawanna College who joined us on the tour can take back something that will remain with them throughout their future careers in the local natural gas industry.

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