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Pureheat & Indirect-fired Air Heaters keep drilling on-line on Marcellus Shale Gas Field

A modern-day gold rush is on in Pennsylvania. This time the precious target is energy, natural gas to be specific.Once thought to contain only 2 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of recoverable natural gas reserves, the Marcellus black shale field is an enormous underground reserve with estimates ranging from 168 to 516 TCF. The deposit runs from southern New York through Pennsylvania and into eastern Ohio and West Virginia, and the rush is on in Pennsylvania to purchase land and drill.

“Currently, one of our heater customers has 40 established drills,” says Pete Mason, regional manager, Atlantic Region, for Wacker Neuson. “By the end of 2010, the company expects to be up to 100 drills.”

Drilling companies are using a process called “fracing” or fracturing the shale to release more of the gas. It’s not cheap. The cost for drilling a vertical well averages $800,000, while a horizontal well can top $3 million.

Fracing requires a sand and water slurry mix to fracture the shale. Immense amounts of water are consumed for drilling, and dozens of high capacity water “frac” tanks are often found at a drill site. “The number of tanks required depends on the depth of the well,” comments Greg Wright with Down to Earth Rentals’ Montrose, PA branch.

Drilling on this gigantic underground reserve does not stop, continuing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year. The location of the deposit sets up for a fierce battle between man and Mother Nature during the winter months.

Air Heat to the East
Some drilling contractors came prepared to work through subfreezing temperatures while many others did not. “These contractors have drilled all over the world, but the challenges of Pennsylvania winters are quite unique,’” comments Wright. “After the first snow with temperatures dropping to 17° F and wind chill factors making it feel like it’s below zero, they were scrambling for heating solutions to keep the frac tanks from freezing.”

Frozen frac tanks or water lines could force the multi-million-dollar drilling operation to cease production. Contractors cleared Down to Earth of its indirect-fired air heaters after that first storm. 

They constructed make-shift tents from 2- x 4-in wood framing with a plastic shell. The heaters were used to keep the air inside these tents above 40° F. If a frac tank gets any colder, it is automatically shut down.

Wacker Neuson indirect-fired heaters deliver safe, clean and dry heat to the jobsite and easily kept the air under the tents above 40° F, even with outside temperatures reaching 0° F. “Contractors like the flexibility of attaching either one or two ducts to the heater, so a single heater can heat up to two frac tanks,” explains Wright. “We were able to work with one contractor ahead of time to determine the site’s heating needs, using the Wacker Neuson heat estimator to get the right size and number of heaters for the application,” he adds.

Hydronic Heat in the West
While indirect-fired air heaters are the heater of choice in northeast Pennsylvania, drilling contractors in the central and southwestern part of the state prefer the high BTU/hr output of the hydronic Pureheat heater. The Pureheat offers contractors the choice of propane, natural gas or diesel fuel sources as with some models of the indirect-fired air heaters, however, the Pureheat operates by running a glycol solution through the standard 1,000 ft of hose, and delivers a concentrated 714,000 BTU/hr fuel output at 83% efficiency.

In Mansfield, PA Great Plains Oilfield Rental (GPOR) is wrapping water transfer lines and gas lines with hydronic hoses to keep the lines from freezing. By adding optional hose length to Pureheat, “we wrapped 3,500 ft of 16-in pipe with the hoses: one on top and two on the sides,” explains Ken Miller, field manager for GPOR’s Mansfield branch.

Currently, Miller has six Pureheat units for winter drilling, which extends from the end of November to mid-April. He reports that the Pureheat solution has worked very well, even in temperatures as low as 0° F. “The cost of running the heater is an insignificant portion of the overall operation, but the job stops if the water freezes.”

On the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border, GPOR in Mt. Morris, PA has taken a different approach with Pureheat. The inside of frac tanks are lined with 250 to 300 ft of hose. The heaters are equipped with a booster pump, additional hose and a generator for this application. The frac tanks are lined up and the hoses are piggy-backed from tank to tank.

In this configuration, Pureheat units are heating four high-capacity frac tanks from within to keep the water from freezing. One Pureheat unit heats up to 1,200 ft of hose.

“The customer commented to me that he opened the frac tank during a cold spell and saw steam coming from the water,” recalls Sam Veneziale, district manager for Wacker Neuson. “This site of GPOR is currently running 25 Pureheat units with tremendous success.”