Environmental concerns in Pennsylvania related to Marcellus Shale development are high. One of the issues to which the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) has given a high priority is the threat of methane migration into fresh water as a result of methane leaking to surface from behind casing. This has become a significant problem for Marcellus operators as leaking annuli on both new and existing wells is not uncommon. This paper outlines the steps that Flatirons Development took to demonstrate to PADEP that the annular leaks on a recently drilled and cased Marcellus lateral posed no credible threat to ground water and that completion of the well should be allowed to proceed.

In early June, 2011, Flatirons became aware of bubbling in the water filled cellar of the DU 3-6-1H. This discovery came just as completion operations were set to begin. Subsequent investigation revealed that there were two leaks, one from the production-intermediate annulus and another very small leak from the intermediate-surface annulus. PADEP issued Flatirons a Notice of Violation (NOV) and requested that fracture treating the well not proceed until the issue had been resolved.

Over the following two months, Flatirons implemented a series of diagnostic procedures meant to assess the short and long term environmental threat, determine the cause of the problem, trace the source of the gas, and, if necessary, formulate effective remediation options. Using a variety of tools including ultrasonic imaging, pressure build-ups, noise-temperature logs, gas isotopic analysis, cement sample analysis, and continuous monitoring of annular flow, Flatirons was able to demonstrate that the fresh water aquifer was not threatened by methane migration. This work was presented to PADEP's Gas Well Integrity study group and helped form a basis for revising regulations governing leaking annuli.

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