I have more company now that a new neighbor has moved in next door. Friends I haven’t seen in years have come over. Even mere acquaintances have been stopping by.
I’ve suddenly become “popular,” and I must say that I’m enjoying the attention. Obviously, these people are more interested in my new neighbor than they are me. But that’s OK. I’m a bit fascinated with the neighbor, myself.
I had been watching construction of the neighbor’s new place for several weeks. First, excavation crews worked 12-hour days constructing a long, wide driveway using some of the biggest equipment that I had ever seen. Then they cleared and flattened an area about the size of a football field to build. It seemed to happen overnight – and before I knew it, the neighbor was settled in and hard at work.
In case you haven’t guessed, my neighbor is a drilling rig.
And, while everyone might not like the idea of having a drilling rig next door, it has generated a lot of interest and excitement around here. You’d think a celebrity moved in. Everyone wants a gander. And why wouldn’t they? At 125 feet tall, the rig is about the height of a 10 story building. It arrived on a convoy of flat bed semi trucks and weighs thousands of tons. Its mast can be seen for miles around, especially at night when it lights up the night sky.
The drilling rig crew is on site working 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They say a rig shuts down one day a year for Christmas, but, from what I could tell, this rig kept working right through the holidays.
The rig itself is surrounded by massive engines, generators, dozens of storage tanks, piping, sand boxes and mud pumps, among other things. It’s like a small city out in the middle of nowhere.
Thankfully, living on an adjacent property, we have a great vantage point. So good, in fact, friends have joked that maybe I should charge admission. People are continually dropping in, inquiring about the rig and wanting to observe it in action.
It’s not easy to get up close and personal with a drilling rig. Security at a well pad is tight and they don’t let just anyone in. Unless you’re an employee, a contractor or a truck driver making a delivery, you won’t be granted access. Sure, there are pictures online of drilling rigs, but it’s just not the same as witnessing one firsthand.
This is a Patterson -UTI Drilling Company rig, drilling into the Appalachian shale basin for Rice Energy. The well pad, itself, has got a cool name – as do many of Rice Energy’s wells. In the Marcellus shale region in Pennsylvania, Rice has named their wells after superheroes, like Zorro, Batman and Robin. Here in eastern Ohio in the Utica shale, they’re named after monster trucks, like Big Foot, Gold Digger and Blue Thunder. More recently, Rice has been using palindromes to name their well pads, words that are spelled the same forward and backward. Here in Belmont County, Rice Energy has Evil Olive and Tuna Nut, just to name a couple. Next door to me is the “Dr. Awkward” well, which I think is pretty catchy. Who could forget a name like that? Trucking companies and contractors say that the atypical well names used by Rice helps them remember the wells and makes their work easier.
At an average of about $1,450 per lateral foot, Rice expects its Utica drilling to cost some $13.5 million per well, according to reports. Rice Energy boasts the highest producing wells in Belmont County, the hotspot in the Ohio Utica.
We can get within about 100 yards of Dr. Awkward when we hike to the far edge of our 85-acre property. I hike over there with my dogs at least a couple times a week to watch the imposing machine in action. I’ve taken a few pictures and videos, but they just don’t do it justice. It’s a spectacular sight, especially at night when the entire place is lit up and it looks like a spaceship has landed.
When friends stop by, we usually end up hiking over or we hop in the ATV. The land here is rugged and steep, so just getting there requires some gumption. Once we are to the edge of the property, we usually just stand and stare at its grandeur and speculate about what is going on. There are so many different aspects and stages of drilling. Sometimes there’s lots of clanging of pipes, and you can hear the engines wind up, which sounds similar to a jet preparing for take off. The traveling block is often moving up and down within the derrick, with cables cranking and machines hissing. Some visitors have mentioned that it’s loud. Maybe I’ve just grown accustomed to the noise, but I barely notice it from home, where the trees and hills serve as a good noise barrier.
Tanker trucks hauling water and fuel continually come and go at the well pad. Flat bed trucks with pipe, equipment, and other mysterious-looking machines are in and out.
The well pad site used to be an open field. A local farmer cut hay there and it was leased by hunters during deer season. I’m happy to see that whitetail deer still congregate in the area around Dr. Awkward, enjoying the lush clover mix that was planted by the oil company during reseeding. The deer know they’re safe there, as firearms are prohibited anywhere near a well pad. When I hear people say that shale production is harmful to wildlife habitat, I have a different perspective and can’t completely agree with that. An industrial-size wind turbine or commercial solar array requires as much or more space to be cleared than a well pad.
The area around the pad itself is enclosed in fencing to keep pets and wildlife out. The land adjacent to the road leading into the well, which is about a quarter mile long, has all been reseeded and looks like a meticulously-manicured driveway – though it’s much wider than any residential drive.
I’m told that a rig stays for a couple of months before it’s dismantled and moved to its next drilling location, and I have to say that I’ll be sad to see it go. After that, Dr.Awkward will be hydraulically fracked and production will begin. It will be interesting to see how Dr. Awkward compares to Rice’s other top producing well in the county, Mohawk Warrior. I’ll keep you posted!