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Pa. shale gas production stalls, but Chesapeake expands drilling footprint

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Essential Energy Insights - September 17, 2020

Essential Energy Insights September 2020

Rate case activity slips, COVID-19 proceedings remain at the forefront in August


Pa. shale gas production stalls, but Chesapeake expands drilling footprint

"Rambo fracks" and a parade of new wells from Chesapeake Energy Corp. launched Pennsylvania's Wyoming County into position as the fifth-largest gas-producing county in the state in August, and Chesapeake is using those results to expand the size of the drilling fairway in the northeast portion of the Marcellus Shale.

Susquehanna County, directly north of Wyoming County in the state's northeast corner, remains the top Pennsylvania county for gas production, according to data submitted to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Statewide, production was flat month over month and up only 3% compared to August 2016, as it appears that drillers held their breath for Texas Eastern Transmission LP's Adair Southwest, Columbia Gas Transmission LLC's Leach Xpress and Energy Transfer Partners LP's Rover Pipeline LLC to start service in the fall.

Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., returning in August as the state's top producer, has two wells in Wyoming County, both with unremarkable results. Those two wells are Cabot's only wells outside Susquehanna County, where it reported 626 wells in August with nearly 2 Bcf/d of production.

Chesapeake's McGavin E Wyoming 6H well, with its 61 MMcf/d production after 10 days, a 10,429-foot lateral and enough sand and water for roughnecks to nickname it the "Rambo frack," proved to the company that Marcellus Shale acreage in northeast Pennsylvania was even more productive than previously thought, Executive Vice President for Exploration and Production Frank Patterson told investors at a September conference in New Orleans.

"We wanted to see what a new completion ? because we've never done one, a new-style completion with a little bit longer lateral ? what could you do. And this rock will hum," Patterson said. "61 million a day, that well's still well over 50 million a day. It's a hoss."

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The McGavin well averaged 56.1 MMcf/d for August, according to the data submitted to the state, and it appears from well data that Chesapeake reported production from 30 of the 38 newly reporting wells in the county. The county's production grew 20% year over year to nearly 1 Bcf/d in August.

"The goal there was to see what we can do," Patterson said. "I don't think we're going to design our completions to do 60 million a day going forward. We're going to be looking for more like 30 million to 40 million a day because that takes a lot of surface equipment, a lot of effort, and we just wanted to see what the rock could do. But the rock can do what we allow it to do. So it's pretty massive."

"So we're expanding our footprint in the core," Patterson added, with his presentation slide indicating that that core is not going deeper into Wyoming County but to the northwest in Bradford County. "That's really cool for the future. We're still constrained on takeaway, but we can drill less wells and maintain our flow capacity to fill the takeaway capacity, which is pretty important. So this asset becomes, basically, a low-maintenance capital cash flow machine going forward."

With Cabot and Williams Cos. Inc.'s Constitution Pipeline Co. LLC north to New York tied up in the courts over water permits and federal vs. state primacy, big drillers in the northeast are counting on the 1.7-Bcf/d Atlantic Sunrise gas pipeline, being developed by Williams' Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co. LLC, to start service in mid-2018. Construction has begun on the line, which was challenged in the federal courts and by protesters on the ground in rural Lancaster County.

Chesapeake and Cabot have slowed their production to wait for Atlantic Sunrise or Constitution to get started while the state's other big producers ? Southwestern Energy Co., Range Resources Corp. and EQT Corp. ? showed flat production compared to July.

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While none of those three southwest Appalachian shale lines extends to Pennsylvania, gas moved to the new lines from the Marcellus Shale in West Virginia and the Utica Shale Ohio is expected to open up room on legacy pipelines operated by Columbia, Dominion Energy Transmission, Inc. and Texas Eastern for gas outbound from the counties south of Pittsburgh.