Thursday we looked at the first part of section two with lots of scientific absolutes. Today it’s time to bring the human factor in and turn absolutes into something, well, whatever the human equivalent of absolute is. Uncertain.
While each step is supposed to take a certain amount of time in the grand scheme of the process, the actual amount of time that might be is only outlined for a few steps.
For instance, it’s very clear how long it might take to lease the mineral rights to a particular property, but it’s unclear how long it might take to get the proper permits to begin drilling.
The report doesn’t mention anywhere in this section the amount of time it takes to build a well, but it tells you how long it will take to build the road leading to the well. It also tells you how this road, and the pad that will house the drill, is generally timed to be built only a week or two before drilling begins. And it tells you that drilling is a 24-hour a day process once it has begun, but again, it doesn’t state how long that process lasts.
Additionally, just because the process of hydraulic fracturing has been started (the actual horizontal drilling and causing of fissures to fracture within the shale bed), it doesn’t mean the well is instantly placed into production. If there is no established infrastructure between the gas wells and the already existing pipelines for transportation, the well is inactive while it waits for the construction of these feeder pipelines. According to the study, there are hundreds of completed wells currently doing just that.
The study is also unclear as to how long it might take a well to be brought offline and plugged for abandonment and reclamation following state standards.
Some of this information being uncertain is understandable, given that the amount of shale gas within the bed itself, as I talked about last week, is very uncertain. It’s understandable that we can’t know how long it will take to extract the natural gas reserves from the earth when we don’t know how much is down there.
Other uncertain aspects of the timeline, such as the permitting process and the plugging-up of sites once extraction is complete are also understandable, given that North Carolina has very little experience with this type of resource, and therefore very little protocol to follow.
But understandable and acceptable are not quite the same thing, and I can’t help but wonder how much more accurate (or even presentable) some of these estimates might be if we were to wait just a bit on the rest of the information.