Drilling and Completions
Rigorous compliance with all applicable rules and regulations is paramount at SM Energy. We drill and complete our wells in compliance with all state and federal regulations. Our well locations are regularly inspected by SM Energy employees and consultants, as well as regulatory officials. We also meet face-to-face several times a year with our contractors to help ensure compliance with applicable laws, regulations and codes.
We construct our oil and natural gas wells to provide a shield between oil, gas and water production and the environment in compliance with applicable regulations. To help ensure safety, our wells are constructed with multiple layers of steel piping, called casing, that is cemented into place. These layers of steel and cement create a multi-layer effective barrier between energy production and underground water supplies.
Preparation For Drilling
Before we drill a well, our geologists and engineers study the size, structure and thickness of the rock formations to determine how our drilling should take place. We must obtain information on the depth and location of all freshwater zones to ensure that protections are put in place. We must file for and obtain all necessary state, federal, and local permits. We then have the opportunity to engage nearby residents and local governments to share information and listen to and address concerns prior to beginning operations.
Lifespan of a Well
Bringing a well into production requires multiple steps including transporting equipment, well pad construction and completion. The drilling rig and related equipment are only placed on the site temporarily and are removed when the well is completed and begins producing. Once the well is drilled and completed, all of the surrounding land that is not needed for future operations is then returned to pre-drilling conditions and the landscape is reclaimed. The well that remains can now produce for as long as 40 years. At the end of the well’s life, it is plugged and abandoned, and the site is reclaimed in accordance with applicable regulations and landowner agreements.
Hydraulic fracturing has been safely used in the oil and gas industry since the 1940s, and has been used in more than a million wells. While initially used to increase production in older wells, technological advances in the process have resulted in its use to access previously inaccessible natural gas and oil deposits in shale and other tightly compacted formations.
The hydraulic fracturing process involves pumping a mixture of water, sand and a relatively small proportion of special purpose chemical additives into a deep underground rock formation with enough pressure to create a network of fractures in the rock. SM Energy typically drills wells to depths between 4,000 and 14,000 feet, which are far below groundwater aquifers.
In order to protect groundwater sources during the hydraulic fracturing process, multiple heavy steel casings are typically inserted deep into the ground and fully cemented into the wellbore before beginning any operations. The casings, cement and placement specifications, and cementing processes are governed by state regulations and well developed industry standards. The cement must meet certain strength and quality criteria and extend from the depth of the casing back to the surface. The steel casing protects aquifers from any material inside the wellbore, while the cement provides an additional protective barrier.
In general, more than 99 percent of our typical fracturing fluid mix is comprised of water and sand, with the remaining <1 percent a blend of highly diluted special purpose chemicals that are also frequently used at municipal water treatment plants. For example, one common ingredient is guar, a gel used in the food industry.
SM Energy discloses all of the chemicals used in our fracturing fluids at FracFocus.org.