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Shale workshop finds that continued development necessitates transparency with public

Posted on 09 March 2012

By Katherine Scott, editorial coordinator

Growth in North American shale-gas drilling has sparked a change in technologies and interest in hydraulic fracturing, adding to a strong need for more public outreach and education, Andy Shelton, new technology research coordinator for National Oilwell Varco, said during a presentation at the 2012 IADC/SPE Drilling Conference in San Diego, Calif., on 8 March. That was among several findings from the IADC Shale Drilling Technology and Challenges Workshop held on 25 January 2011.

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Representing the IADC Advanced Rig Technology, Andy Shelton presented results of a 2011 IADC shale drilling workshop during a presentation this week at the 2012 IADC/SPE Drilling Conference. Being more community-minded was one important conclusion that workshop participants reached.

Sponsored by the IADC Advanced Rig Technology (ART) Committee’s Future Technology Subcommittee (FTS), the workshop brought together technology and industry experts to discuss issues related to North American shale drilling.

First, operators and contractors shared their views. From the operator perspective, technology is expected to overcome many of the challenges of shale-gas development, Mr Shelton said, enabling lower development costs and minimizing operational footprints. And although interest in the international unconventionals market has grown, operators still believe that the bulk of shale-gas development will continue to be in North America due to the logistical and regulatory infrastructures in place.

“(North America has) roads that are built for large-scale equipment mobilization. The research and development for shale-gas development was originated here; we have the expertise. We also have the political grease to get things done. A lot of that is not in place internationally, yet,” Mr Shelton said.

For land drilling contractors, the emergence of shale drilling has produced significant changes in the market. One is the rapid migration of the land rig fleet from traditional Kelly rigs to advanced-technology AC rigs, which is in turn driving increases in ROP, reductions in flat time and improvements in safety. Additionally, the market has been able to move from gas to liquids plays while natural gas prices are weak.

Social aspects of urban drilling and its effect on the industry played an equally important part in the IADC shale workshop. Although the public likes and appreciates the economic and service-related benefits of E&P development, they distrust the industry and dislike many of the problems associated with development, Mr Shelton said. It was therefore concluded that the industry should look deeper at how it’s perceived by the general public.

The technology section of the workshop focused on avenues of progression for the future of shale drilling, particularly in regards to well manufacturing, urban rigs and hydraulic fracturing. Solutions that were suggested included lean production to drive down costs and using more water-based solutions in hydraulic fracturing. Doing more to reduce disturbance to the local community while increasing industry transparency were also key recommendations.

One example of this being done is a rig that operates inconspicuously in the highly populated area of Beverly Hills. Although this rig is not doing shale drilling, it illustrates what the industry can achieve in such urban areas. “In effect, anyone can walk down the street next to this rig and not see, smell, hear or even feel its presence,” Mr Shelton said. The rig also has a sign in front of it with contact numbers for questions or complaints. “It’s absolutely critical to inform the public of what’s happening,” he added.

“Remaining community-minded is very important,” Mr Shelton concluded. “Addressing the rational and the irrational concerns of the public is something to be considered, as well as continuing development not only to address economics but also environmental, safety and social perceptions of the general public. It’s important for the operators and drilling contractors to be transparent with communication by funding and promoting informational and education programs in the communities.”

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