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Author Topic: Local Water Well Driller offers insight into Marcellus shale drilling Process  (Read 13281 times)

Kilgour Farms

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Hancock Herald, Hancock, NY

Local Water Well Driller offers insight into Marcellus shale drilling Process


by Sally Zegers

  Francis Tully of Poyntelle, Pa., a well driller for most of his life, weighed in recently on drilling for natural gas in the area, based on what he calls the science of the drilling process.
  The Tully Drilling Company  was started in 1928, by his father, Ben Tully. The elder Tully had been a Ford dealer in the area, during the era when new cars arrived in boxes  by train, and the dealers put them together. ?Dad excelled with people,? he says.
  According to Francis, his father bought a brand new Ford truck and drove it to Ohio to have a drill rig mounted on it. The engine ran both the truck and then the drill rig, once the truck?s back wheels were hoisted off the  ground. The Tullys, father Ben and sons Francis and Tom, were in  the water well drilling business.
  ?It was a good business,? Francis said. He learned it from the ground up, literally, after being put to work after graduation in 1942.
  He says he tried in vain to enter the Army, turned down seven times because of a large and distinctive hemangioma, or blood cyst, on his lower lip. ?The doctors were afraid I?d get hit there and it would bleed heavily,? he says now. ?I tried to tell them no one was getting that close to me.?
  He returned home and his father ?put me to work.? It was easy to learn everything about the process because Ben Tully ?didn?t believe in doing a lot of hiring,? and Francis had to run five machines. At that time, he says, it took one to two weeks to drill a water well. With today?s technology, a well can be drilled in  a few hours.
  Tully Drilling was a major and well respected business in Wayne County for several decades, serving farmers and small businesspeople across the area. ?Dad worked with all the farmers. Farmers? credit was always good,? he says. He recalls his father getting a dozen Rhode Island Reds as partial payment on one job. Unfortunately, he forgot he already had a fighting rooster in the coop, and the family ate a lot of chicken for a while.
  Over the years, according to Francis Tully, the company drilled 10,000 wells across several counties and two states, and he still has the files to prove it.
 He says the phenomenon of ?fracture zone seepage? is relatively common in Susquehanna and Wayne Counties and drillers often found  natural gas while drilling for water. The internet features several videos of people ?flaring? matches at water faucets in Susquehanna County, which is cited as evidence that gas drilling is damaging private water wells. However, drillers fifty years ago often found that they could flare matches at the faucets. According to Francis Tully, near Clifford, in Susquehanna County,  ?nearly every well in the area? has natural gas.
The gas is so much deeper underground that it?s under much higher pressure, and is forced up into the level that holds the water, he says. He expects the Equinunk area to be a hot spot for gas, based on his experience drilling wells.
  The phenomenon occurs mainly on land near streams and the river. In New York State, he reports, when gas was encountered, it was a 50-50 split between natural gas or sulphur. ?You had to be careful not to drill too deeply,? he said, ?or you?d get sulphur.?
  If you did drill too deep and got sulphur water, you had to plug that well and get the water from a more shallow spot in the drilled hole. To do that, he says, drillers took a piece of wood, and put a staple on top of it. They would cover the wood with burlap and put it down the well, below the spot where they wanted it, then yank it up with great force, lodging the wood at the spot where they wanted the well to be plugged. Then they poured concrete on top of the wooden plug.
  Over the years he has encountered almost every situation possible in drilling water wells, from finding gas and even oil, and finding nothing - not even water. He drilled four wells on one property before he struck water for the homeowner. Being hired to find water, he points out, means you have to find water, meaning he only charged the homeowner for the one successful well, and ate the rest of the cost.
Tully Drilling also did a lot of business in Scranton, closing off old mines, and trying to put out mine fires. He?s proud of his family?s work in completely extinguishing one mine fire, a rare occurrence. He admits that it took 99,000 yards of sand, but they got it done.
  He worked with geologists over the years, and ?picked their brains,? picking up a lot of information on geology.  He invented a drill that also takes core samples while drilling, and received a patent on it.
  According to Francis Tully, the photographs he?s seen of the well that blew up in Dimock, Pa. on New Year?s Day 2009 lead him to believe that the tank itself blew up. He believes the switch froze in the on position, and it couldn?t switch off, allowing pressure to build and build until the tank blew apart. ?Tanks do blow up,? he says, noting that he?s seen it happen many times over the 60 plus years he was in the business. A ccording to him, one tank came up through the floor of a living room, hit the ceiling and ended up on the divan. Fortunately, he says, the homeowner was out of the house at the time, which sounds like a classic understatement.
He believes drilling for natural gas should be ?perfectly safe? as long the drillers use three layers of pipe, using surface casing down to 1,000 feet, then drilling 7,600 feet to the Marcellus Shale. Then you case it again and grout it.
The level at which water is found is relatively shallow. Drillers will bore through it with boreholes encased in steel and concrete, to protect the water supply, Tully points out. The Marcellus Shale is more than a mile underground.
The different levels of rock and shale in the earth are like ?pages in a book,? he says. He points out that the layers of rock protect the water in the upper level. Fracturing, something water drillers have done for years with dynamite, only fractures the rock close to the well, not the thousands of feet above it.
He has traveled out to Titusville, Pa., to see the original site of oil drilling, and notes that there are ?no tar paper shacks? in that area. ?They?re prosperous,? he points out.
He considers the entire development of gas drilling an exciting topic. ?I wish I was twenty years younger. I?d be drilling,? he says.
  He sold the building that housed the business about two years ago, and retired, albeit reluctantly, but still travels around to drilling sites and talks with the men behind the machines. ?I don?t have a college degree, so I?m an unpaid consultant,? he smiles.
  He regrets junking the  first Ford truck that Ben Tully  used to start the business, but has accumulated few other regrets over a lifetime of work. Following the flood of 2006, many local wells in the area were underwater, but because of the materials used and the attention to detail, none of the Tully wells was contaminated.  He is quietly proud that his reputation, and that of his family, is secure.
« Last Edit: March 02, 2010, 12:38:17 PM by Kilgour Farms »

Chicken Farmer

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Great article Kilgour!  That's a real life account of the behavior of rural wells.  This should be posted on every anti site.


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Natural gas in most water wells is due to gas under extreme pressure being pushed upward over thousands of years to an area of lower pressure.  This natural migration of gas in the water table puts fresh clean water supplies at risk.  Thanks to the efforts of many gas company's in the Marcellus Shale, this problem may be alleviated to some degree if not blocked by those attempting to preserve water table contamination.  The plan is to remove the gas under high pressure by drilling into the shale and fracturing the rock to provide for an easy escape of the gas that threatens to contaminate the aquifers.  This harmful substance will be directed through a series of pipes to heat the homes whose water supply the gas once threatened.  In addition to saving the water supply from contamination & heating the same home, the homeowner will be employed on the drill rig that rids the threat, and they will get paid for the gas naturallly poisoning their water supply that is pulled from the earth.

Kilgour Farms

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They drilled my parents well in 1970.


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Very nice post.  Improving water wells makes great sense as well.  I wonder if anyone has experienced that. That would make a nice article in the paper... or U-tube clip (titled "where'd my fire go?")

Kilgour Farms

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I like his summary of the explosion in Dimock, a faulty tank switch.

I also believe that this makes testing water even more important for the gas companies. It will prevent frivolous law suites.

Most who have gas in their water already know its there.

If you think theres air in your water you might want to think again.
« Last Edit: March 02, 2010, 12:56:41 PM by Kilgour Farms »


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or U-tube clip (titled "where'd my fire go?")
 :D  :D :D :D :D


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Kilgour Farms, that is a great article.  If Mr. Tully with a long lifetime of water well drilling experience and thousands of wells under his belt, along with notes he made as each well was drilled, could summarize those findings and get them to the DRBC and other agencies, I think it could tip the scales in favor of the drilling industry moving forward in the Delaware basin.  We all know on an anecdotal basis that all along the New York/Pennsylvania border that there are naturally occurring pockets of gas that get into wells.  Nobody wanted that gas because it just made using the water difficult or unpleasant.  But now we know the reason for that fouled water, and that its' evidence that there is a valuable resource rather than something detrimental.  Mr. Tully has experience by his account of some 10,000 wells and can speak authoritatively of the real situation at hand.  That's 10,000 more than any of the various NIMBYs and Greenies combined can say.


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Excellent work...
  Remember the NY Times article from the mid 1800's about some
guy fishing one of the Eddy's in the Delaware River, lit his pipe, threw
the match in the water and the river caught fire...sure was a load of
hydro frackin activity but then...

Kilgour Farms

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Excellent work...
  Remember the NY Times article from the mid 1800's about some
guy fishing one of the Eddy's in the Delaware River, lit his pipe, threw
the match in the water and the river caught fire...sure was a load of
hydro frackin activity but then...

You mean this one.

I imagine that if we keep looking we can find all kinds of references to gas in water before the "Gasicane" came along.


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here's another oldie.. Chasgas originally posted it our CNY site.

whenever we went fishing in cannonsville, gramps would tell stories and point out past homes, businesses, farms and the like... the catskills magazine had a two issue article (80's) about how folks were moved from their land reminiscent of granny on the beverly hillbillies... it's a great read... check out the photos on this site, there are several including the other reservoirs that nyc destroyed in their need and greed for water... how sad.....

some of the whiners from NYC (not all) are "selective greenies"


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Our well-driller tells stories of placing a rock over a well casing that he had just drilled, and evidently a flame came too close and blew the rock up into the air due to the gas that was present.

He also says that he has many experiences of gas in the water.


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My wife and I had dinner one night with Marty Tully and his wife.  He personally related a story of a well they drilled that actually fizzed like soda due to the gas in it.  The owners didn't want it plugged and the Tullys had to get a signed release to protect themselves.

Another old timer I ran into about a week ago mentioned a possible tank explosion.  If the well had one of those old piston pumps and the regulator failed, it would just continue pumping till something blew.

But, that is pure speculation and I have not yet heard what type of pump was being used in the well that blew in Susquehanna County.
« Last Edit: March 02, 2010, 03:35:16 PM by admin »
"I gave my kid a new credit card after he maxed out his last one.  He maxed the new one too and it appears that I am dumb enough to give him another one."  Too late now to stop.  The debt is too big.


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that darn fracing, it will be the death of us all!!!!!!!! ::) ::) ::)

great post kilgour...



  • Guest
Thats the one... :D :D :D
always a great read...
and should be bumped every so often
good one Kilgour


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