Marcellus Shale

Seneca Resources Gets Innovative to Reduce Impacts

Hands down the number one complaint by those individuals living in the active Marcellus Shale play of Pennsylvania is truck traffic. As a landowner and one of those said individuals, I too can be heard from time to time muttering to myself as I sit behind a caravan of trucks. It’s an issue the natural gas industry is well aware of and one it’s working creatively to mitigate. In recent years the use of fresh water impounds has increased tremendously, and with those the use of water pipelines to carry water from these locations to well sites has dramatically reduced truck traffic associated with hydraulic fracturing. Seneca Resources is taking this line of thinking even further. Read on to learn all about their innovative water withdrawal system.


Seneca Resources holds the majority of the leases on Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) owned land. As a company that has been operating in the state for over 100 years, its employees know the importance of working with agencies like DCNR to address issues and mitigate them in the best manner possible. DCNR has also overseen natural gas exploration on their lands for over 60 years, and as such has strict guidelines in place for those companies operating on these lands. Why is this important?

It’s important because both DCNR and Seneca, with their longstanding histories of natural gas development and oversight in Pennsylvania, faced some unique challenges with a recent lease–and Seneca rose to the table with some highly innovative solutions, exceeding the requirements laid forth by DCNR and the expectations of many in the area.

What Were the Challenges?

The greatest challenge presented to Seneca for the DCNR Tract 100 lease holdings was in determining how it would get the needed water–approximately 4.5 million gallons per well–to their operations with less than ideal road conditions. A typical hydraulic fracturing operation will use approximately 1,000 trucks that would need to be driven up and down steep inclines, on both one and two-way public roads. In the case of this particular lease, Seneca foresees having 70 or more wells, which would produce approximately 70,000 truck trips in a fairly high populated area on roads built for lighter traffic. Yikes. Sounds pretty scary, huh? Well, Seneca thought so too.

Their solution, to build a water withdrawal pumping facility at the base of the mountain on Lycoming Creek, also presented a few challenges. The biggest was that Lycoming Creek is located in an “exceptional value” watershed. According to Pennsylvania Code 93.4b that means it meets at lease one of the following conditions:

(b)  Qualifying as an Exceptional Value Water. A surface water that meets one or more of the following conditions is an Exceptional Value Water:

(1)  The water meets the requirements of subsection (a) and one or more of the following:

(i)   The water is located in a National wildlife refuge or a State game propagation and protection area.

(ii)   The water is located in a designated State park natural area or State forest natural area, National natural landmark, Federal or State wild river, Federal wilderness area or National recreational area.

(iii)   The water is an outstanding National, State, regional or local resource water.

(iv)   The water is a surface water of exceptional recreational significance.

(v)   The water achieves a score of at least 92% (or its equivalent) using the methods and procedures described in subsection (a)(2)(i)(A) or (B).

(vi)   The water is designated as a ‘‘wilderness trout stream’’ by the Fish and Boat Commission following public notice and comment.

(2)  The water is a surface water of exceptional ecological significance.

To break down these challenges even further, here’s what had to take place to make this project work:

Starting at the withdrawal point, the needs were to bore (35 feet below) under a stream, State Rt. 14 (137 feet below), and up a cliff… and then trench a steep hillside, run a ridge top and then drop back down a black diamond slope. This was followed by the bore of an Exceptional Value trout stream, a road, and another trout stream… continuing with a trench up another steep hillside, to another ridge top, and up and down to the end point, which when reached 7.5 miles later, had traversed slopes exceeding 60 percent and elevation changes of roughly 1,400’… several times.
Here is a visual of what needed to take place:

Seneca Accepts the Challenge

Seneca is approved by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) for a peak water withdrawal of 1.292 million gallons per day, with a maximum pumping rate of 897 gallons per minute (gpm) and a minimum pass-by = 27,639 gpm. The pump at the withdrawal point is an electric pump capable of delivering 900 gpm to the pump station.

The process begins at the pump station with a 200 micron filter system programmed to backwash while providing uninterrupted flow to the system. The flow then enters a lateral system which fills ten 36” diameter, 30’ deep fabricated HDPE tanks with individual capacities of 1,588 gallons.

Sites G and E on the above pictures are used to manage flow across the lease. They use booster pumps housed in 12’ x 28’ utility sheds.  Additionally, they are accessible for truck fill on an as needed basis.

Multiple air release valves and dual risers with valves are strategically situated across the system to enable bi-directional flow to be routed to whatever well pad requires fresh water for well stimulation and completion.

Each tank is equipped with a stainless steel, multi-stage submersible pump.  Each pump is capable of 150 gpm at 1,460’.

Six pumps provide 900 gpm at 620 psi.  The system is designed with four back-up pump redundancy, and the system is programmed to cycle through all ten pumps, six at a time.

Each tank is wired with a level control device connected to the VFD control panel in the on-site mobile command center. All aspects of the system are managed through the on-site control center; including the generators, withdrawal pump, filters, pump system, and monitors. The control trailer is climate controlled, and each pump is equipped with a check valve, with an additional hydraulic check valve at the discharge designed to handle the high pressures associated with the water line.

The system is currently powered by two 300 KV diesel, sound attenuated generators, but plans are in place to convert these to natural gas generators.  Contingency arrangements allow for 50% flow rate with one generator.

How About the Benefits?

First and foremost, for landowners and others who enjoy this tract of land in Lycoming County, Seneca has taken potentially 70,000 or more trucks off of the road. This means no trucks on less than ideal roads, less potential for accidents, and less stress and impact for residents. What’s more is the station is capable of handling similar capacities for up to two more companies, which would mean they could help reduce traffic by over 200,000 trucks!

By co-locating water lines and gas lines over almost the entire project area, the project minimized the total impact to the forest.

To build the water line and pumping station, it took the combined effort of 15 companies, which provided jobs to local employees.

Storage capacities in the system allow Seneca to have surplus water for operations during low flow times and to minimize the amount needed for withdrawal during regular flows.

Financially, the project, while costly, will actually save Seneca 50% when compared to using a trucking strategy to transport water to their operations.

This is a project that is innovative, a clear example of a company willing to go above and beyond expectations to deliver high quality results in the regions they operate, and its a win-win for all parties involved.  Best of all, it’s just one of the many ways the natural gas industry is working to mitigate these concerns.



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