The tall drilling rig is the most recognizable piece of equipment of the natural gas industry. It rises high above the trees during the day and is a brightly lit spectacle through the night. Many people see them while they’re out and about, whether it’s for work or shopping or any other reason. Usually they will make sure they look at it when they drive by again. 
Then, one day, it’s gone. Off to the next drilling pad seemingly without any warning. However, in reality, there are many steps that go into the process of moving a drilling rig. 
“There is a daily drilling schedule developed that specifies which well pads are prepared to be drilled,” Southwestern Energy Communications Specialist Christina Fowler said. “Logistics play a critical role in moving drilling rigs. Due to roadway construction, road weight limits and the need to obtain permits to carry oversized loads, we may alter how we move the drilling rig to its next location. Our in-house transportation manager prepares the route the rig movers will take, and this route may not always be the shortest distance.”
“The process begins with pre-planning meetings,” External Affairs Coordinator for Cabot Oil & Gas Brittany Thomas said. “During these meetings, it is determined where the rig will relocate to and a route using approved roads along with an approximate time-table is planned up. Coordination in the early steps ensures that approved roads are used; any large scale events, such as a community parade, are avoided; and any bridges crossed are rated for the weight.”
Road restrictions and weather events are a couple of the biggest factors that go into the planning of a rig move.
“Weather always plays a role in the movement of a rig,” Thomas said. “Weather conditions dictate if it is safe to move a rig, if certain roads planned for the moved might be closed due to inclement weather and any other issues that may arise due to the conditions.
“Additionally, restrictions on what roads can be used due to permitted loads are considered,” she continued. “For example, permitted loads can only be on the road during the week and for a few hours on Saturday. This means that the order of equipment moving out of one location into the next will be reordered to obey these laws.”
Fowler also cited these factors, including the days and time that rigs are allowed to move.
“Safety plays a key role in all decisions we make,” she said. “Our managers make decisions on the movement of rigs, as well as the rig movers, when to move or stop movement based on weather conditions. 
“Other factors we take into consideration, including the time rigs are moved,” Fowler continued. “The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation specifies oversized loads must be moved during daylight hours, and only during Monday through Friday and on Saturday until noon. As a result, a rig move can take longer if we are moving during a weekend, since we cannot move any oversized loads on Sundays.” 
Once the planning is completed, it is finally time to move the rig. 
“A drilling rig is an assembly of equipment,” Fowler said. “Depending on the size of the rig, it may take between 20 to 50 truckloads to move. We hire a rig moving company, informing them of the route and the date the rig will be free to move. On the specified date, the rig moving company arrives on the well pad the rig is on.
“After the rig finishes drilling the well it is on, the crew begins ‘rigging down’ or disassembling the rig to prepare for the move,” she continued. “They use between 10 to 14 trucks, one to two cranes and a forklift to move the drilling rig and all associated equipment. As the rig is disassembled, equipment is loaded onto ‘lowboy’ trucks. As the trucks arrive at the next well pad, the rig crew reassembles the drilling rig to begin preparations for drilling the next well.”
This process requires a lot of time and manpower. While the length of time it takes to move a rig varies, it is neither quick nor easy.
“On average, it will take one to four days to move a rig,” Fowler said. “This depends on the route and distance of the move, as well as the size of the drilling rig. A larger rig, or one that can drill deeper, will require more loads and thereby take longer to move. Personnel for a rig move usually includes the rig crew, which consists of 10 to 12 people, 10 to 14 truck drivers and a truck pusher who manages the trucks and moving crew.” 
“It takes about one week to move a rig piece by piece from one pad to another,” Thomas said. “The rig crews and company man are on hand for the process in addition to the trucking company’s employees. All told, about 20 or more individuals are involved in moving the rigs.” 
However, throughout the entire moving process, safety remains the number one priority for the companies.
“We always strive for the safety of personnel and the residents of our communities in all aspects of our operation — from moving rigs to drilling natural gas wells,” Fowler said. “Before each rig move, personnel conduct a pre-move safety meeting to discuss the move and any safety concerns. We also utilize escort vehicles when moving the rig equipment on state and county roads to notify drivers of the oncoming oversized load. The escort vehicles and personnel monitor all power lines, telephone lines and tree branches to ensure the rig equipment has enough clearance to pass underneath.”
“Any areas and equipment holding fluid will be drained where possible and secondary containment for the fluids will be put into place to protect against any accidental spills during the relocation process,” Thomas said. “Employees also use precaution when working with the equipment and follow safe practices while moving each part of the rig.”
Johnny Williams can be reached at (570) 265-1639; email: jwilliams@northeastdriller.com.