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Oct. 05, 2012
CONTACT: K. E. Schwab

Experts agree, safety saves money

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Failing to comply with safety and environmental issues when drilling for oil and gas in the Marcellus Shale region costs money and time and can be avoided, according to three safety and environmental issues experts who addressed a Slippery Rock University assembly Tuesday as part of the University's ongoing Marcellus Shale Development Lecture Series.

SRU's School of Business and its advisory council co-sponsor the series.

Speakers for the "Safety and the Environment" discussion were Sean DeCristoforo, health and safety manager at Advanced Waste Services; Ralph Tijerina, vice president for safety and the environment for Range Resources - Appalachia LLC; and James Daley, director of natural gas and energy programs at Greenhorne & O'Mara Inc.

Anthony Cialella, vice president at Advanced Waste Services, a member of the SRU School of Business Advisory Council and a 1992 SRU finance graduate, served as moderator. He was also instrumental in establishing the lecture series.

Cialella pointed to the economic and employment effects the drilling has already had on the western Pennsylvania region, and how increases in natural gas supplies, in large measure due to Marcellus Shale drilling, have already helped lower costs related to home heating and in industry. The Marcellus find is being likened to those when oil fields were first discovered in Pennsylvania in the 1800s.

It's been estimated that up to 211,000 jobs directly and indirectly related to Marcellus shale will be created in the coming decade as drilling and recovery operations come to the commonwealth.

DeCristoforo, a 2002 SRU safety and environment management graduate, outlined his company's services saying it was an environmental services firm specializing in non-hazardous and hazardous waste collection; an on-site service provider for the oil and gas industry; and provided on-site clearing services to commercial and manufacturing clients located throughout the Midwest states of Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

He explained how Advanced Waste Services works to train employees in safety, especially when confined space work is involved. "Some of our work involves cleaning frac tanks, which can be very dangerous if not properly handled," he said.

Frac tanks are large water and chemical storage tanks used on-site where oil and natural gas wells are drilled and then fractured [geo-fractured] to allow the natural gas to escape from the underground Marcellus Shale. The water/chemical mixture is pulled from the well and held in large metal tanks that need to be cleaned before being moved from the drilling site to a new site.

"A confined space is an area not designed for continuous human occupancy," DeCristoforo said. Entry into such areas requires pre-planning, a review of hazards, being sure personal protective equipment is in place and ensuring that rescue is available should something go wrong.

He said those entering the tank carry air meters to ensure there is sufficient oxygen and safe levels of combustibles. "We constantly monitor for toxic gasses and other hazardous materials and then make sure a trained attendant monitors the worker entering the tank," he said.

He outlined the attendant's responsibilities to ensure worker safety, and said his "Safety Slogan" is "If someone points out an unsafe act or condition to you, it is not a criticism, it could be a gift."

Tijerina offered information on how Range Resources works to keep the environment safe when drilling for oil and gas. He outlined the number of wells the company is involved in across the U.S., pointing to some 50 wells in the Pennsylvania/Ohio region.

"Our efforts are to operate safely and be a good steward of the environment," he said. "That process requires pre- and post-planning for any drilling."

Tijerina said "wet gas" wells, such as those being found in western Pennsylvania drilling, are proving more profitable than the so-called "dry gas" wells. Wet gas wells include extractable ethane, which is highly desired by the chemical industry and is actually a by-product of the natural gas extracted from well.

Gas from "wet" wells sells for a premium.

He said a dry gas well would see gas sell at about $3.33 per 1,040 BTUs, while a wet gas well regarded at "50 percent wet" would see the price range in the $7 to $7.10 range for a like quantity of BTUs.

"Safety and the environment are a part of every aspect of our business. As such, protecting our employees, contracts, the public and the environment are held as a core value," Tijerina said. "Range provides training to its employees to ensure a culture of safe performance and regulatory compliance. Our Contractor Management Protocol requires that work be performed at its highest standard."

Daley, whose company is involved in planning, development and restoration of well sites, said the company has an 11-step plan that applies to most wells. The overall procedure is based on planning and begins by first setting out a plan of "unconstrained concepts," then looking to see what constraints need to be applied.

He said the company first surveys the potential well site, then obtains all necessary permits. As part of the survey, he said, the company looks at ways of avoiding environmental issues that would increase costs, such as possibly relocating the planned drill site to avoid a wetland area.

"We frequently alter the original concept to retain or protect features already at the site," he said, adding, that in planning for restoration of the site, the company talks with the landowners to see what improvements can be added to simultaneously meet their needs. He cited a possible access road to the land, a pond, specific trees or other environmental issue that would leave the land as close to original as possible are considered.

"Throughout the process, we remain in full regulatory compliance," he said. "Environmental protections and regulations are used at every stage in the exploration, production and midstream phase of the development of a well, Daley said.

"It is good business to conduct a daily site review, have contacts in the community and have certified safety and environmental professionals on staff," he said. The company often provides on-site tours to visitors and those interested in such projects under way in their community.

He said casing pipe and cement are used to ensure water supplies are protected as part of the drilling process. Spill prevention plans are in place. "We also make sure emission controls for engines and generators at the site are in place as part of the overall process," he said.

Marcellus Shale extends throughout much of Pennsylvania, as well as into Ohio, New York and West Virginia. Natural gas drawn from the shale is being touted as an alternative energy resource to oil and gasoline. Estimates of recoverable natural gas trapped in the deep shale deposits have been as high as 500-trillion cubic feet.

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.