Editor’s Note: This is the second part in a six-part series giving a step-by-step look at the process that a natural gas company conducts to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale. The series is a collaboration with Chesapeake Energy and the company’s methods of operations are not meant to reflect the operations of other natural gas companies. 
Taking a drive over the roads of northeastern Pennsylvania, it is not uncommon anymore to see an access road winding through a host of trees in the middle of a forest, or another leading over a hill and out of sight. These access roads, now numbering in the hundreds across the area, lead to a natural gas well pad, the framework of a bridge that connects people to the Marcellus Shale. 
While seemingly random, the location of a well pad, which is approximately 300 feet by 400 feet on average, requires a significant amount of planning and time.
“The location of a well pad is very important,” Rory Sweeney of Chesapeake Energy said. “Our geologists work on a systematic grid and they will put an ‘X’ on a map and say that this is the best place to drill for natural gas.” 
However, selecting an actual well pad site is not that simple. In fact, it’s only the beginning.
“We then work with that ‘X’,” Sweeney said. “We work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the state departments of Environmental Protection and Transportation and local municipalities throughout the process to ensure all requirements are met.
“It all starts with geology,” he continued. “Then, a field representative receives the important documents necessary, conducts an initial review, then goes to the site for a field review.
“The review consists of the field representative going on the area of a potential site and deciding if the cost to construct the pad will work, keeping in mind the environmental and topographic factors such as wetlands, slopes and the location of an access road.” 
Once the field review is complete, an independent, third-party hydrologist and engineering firm are brought into the fold.
“The hydrologist performs a thorough wetlands delineation and analysis,” Sweeney said. “The engineer decides how the pad will look and submits a sketch design that mitigates the impacts to the surrounding area.”
When those steps are completed, the field representative will notify the landowners of where the pad is planned.
“He will meet with the landowners and discuss with them what is planned for the pad and identify any concerns or preferences the landowners may have,” Sweeney said.
Then the process of permitting and submitting plans begins.
“We need to obtain driveway permits, either from the state and municipality depending on who owns the road. Our field representative will apply for an internal release-for-survey to begin preparing the documents necessary to submit for a DEP permit. We submit engineering plans, erosion and sedimentation plans, post construction stormwater-management plans and site restoration plans,” Sweeney said. “These plans go from the engineers to Chesapeake, and once we approve them we send them to the DEP, and the submission-approval process can take two to two and a half months.
“Once approved, the field representative will put in a permission-to-build request to our internal departments, and then the landowners and municipality are notified that construction will begin soon.
“No shovel touches the ground until E&S controls are set and we meet with the DEP to make sure everyone involved is up to speed,” he added. “A variety of laws and regulations are followed when these pads are built.”
For example, E&S control plans are built under compliance with the federal Clean Water Act.
“These plans seek to minimize erosion, protect water quality and maintain proper stabilization,” Sweeney said. “There is also a complete set of requirements for spill control, with emphasis on precautions to avoid accidents in the first place.”
Additionally, all well pads are consistently monitored and inspected.
“Our goal is keep stormwater from going into the pad,” Sweeney said. “The water that does fall onto the pad is collected and recycled for reuse.”
Of course, with all of the activity, materials and equipment needed to construct a pad, the roads required to get to a site can take a beating, which is another aspect of the process that Chesapeake takes into account.
“We look for the best roads that will give the safest and quickest route to the site,” Sweeney said. “We look for ways to strengthen the roads, from repairing shoulders or drainage pipes to reconstructing the road.
“An innovative method for this process is Full Depth Reclamation, which involves reusing the existing soil and rocks as a base for the new road,” he continued. “This saves time and also reduces truck traffic because we don’t need to bring in or send out additional trucks. We’ve used this method on about 350 miles of road. 
“We also strive to expand roadways, preferably at least to 20 feet, on road reconstruction to reduce traffic hazards and increase safety. We also notify the public through weekly releases stating where we’ll be working on roads,” Sweeney added. “Additionally, we work with utility companies to make sure we don’t damage their lines and we have agreements with municipalities to maintain these roads to the condition of the time before we used them.
“In total, we’ve invested approximately $350 million into the roads in the area, upgrading and repairing roughly 500 miles of roads over the last few years,” he said.
The entire well pad project, from planning to the end of construction, can take approximately six to eight months to complete. While it’s certainly a lengthy process, the well pad is the necessary bridge to the Marcellus Shale and provided natural gas for decades to come.
Johnny Williams can be reached at (570) 265-1639; email: jwilliams@northeastdriller.com.