A Guide to Every Permitted Natural Gas Well in West Virginia (2022)

by Al Shaw, ProPublica and Kate Mishkin, The Charleston Gazette-Mail, March 6, 2019

This article was produced in partnership with the Charleston Gazette-Mail, which is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.

Since the rise of hydraulic fracturing made it possible to get to the rich layer of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, the number of horizontal well permits — which allow producers to drill for miles underground in all directions from a single point — has increased dramatically in West Virginia.

As of 2006, the state had issued only a dozen total horizontal well permits. As of last year, that total had reached over 5,000, according to data from the state's Department of Environmental Protection.

Find West Virginia horizontal well permits near you

Accessing natural gas in West Virginia's mountainous terrain is much more complicated than in flat Texas or North Dakota. To build horizontal wells, gas producers must first clear the landscape for well pads, which are large, gravel clearings over acres of continuous open space. For the first time ever, ProPublica and the Gazette-Mail used software to show as many as 1,500 well pads, located on the forested hilltops and valleys of Wetzel, Doddridge, Marshall, Harrison and a handful of other counties along the state's Marcellus belt. Here's what they look like.

This pad in Wetzel County is permitted for 20 horizontal wells

Well pads are large gravel clearings where horizontal natural gas wells are drilled into the earth. In West Virginia, this often involves flattening hilltops, denuding forests and paving new roads. There can be multiple wells on a pad. Some have over a dozen. ProPublica obtained images of every permitted horizontal well pad in the state using data from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and aerial imagery from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Read our full methodology ↓

See all 1,470 pad locations for permitted wells ▼

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Until 2011, there weren't many restrictions on where natural gas producers could put well pads. The law at the time only prohibited wells within 200 feet of homes and water wells. They're built next door to homes, schools and drinking water intakes. Loud drilling can go on for months at a time, and large semis drive to and from well pads around the clock.

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What it looks and sounds like when a gas driller overruns your land.

In 2011, the West Virginia Legislature passed the Natural Gas Horizontal Well Control Act, which increased restrictions for natural gas well pads. Under the new law, pads had to be at least 625 feet from an occupied dwelling and could not be placed within 250 feet of a water well or stream. But the law didn't require buffer zones between sensitive areas like schools or public lands, and it measured the 625-foot buffer from homes from the center of the well pad, meaning the pad itself could end up much closer than that to dwellings.

Even under the new rules, people who live near natural gas development still bear the burden of hundreds of trucks a day driving past their homes to pad sites or the constant din of drilling that can ricochet off hilltops into valleys miles below.

This year, Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, a Democrat from Monongalia County, sponsored legislation to increase that buffer to 1,500 feet between a well pad and a home, but it hasn’t advanced in the Republican-controlled chamber.

In West Virginia, the person or entity that owns the land's surface may differ from who owns the mineral rights underneath. In such cases, drillers have the right to access their minerals in a "reasonably necessary" way, and they can often build well pads against the wishes of farmers who own the land they're built on.

A Guide to Every Permitted Natural Gas Well in West Virginia (14)

More than a dozen horizontal natural gas wells can be drilled from a single well pad, like this one in Doddridge County. (Mayeta Clark/ProPublica and Chuck Burkhard/Drone Imageworks for ProPublica)

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But lawyers for residents argue that gas industry has expanded its operations to the point where the impacts are no longer "reasonable" or "necessary." Two cases brought by groups of residents who live near well pads are going before the West Virginia Supreme Court this year. In one case, lawyers for a group of families in Harrison County argued in January that their clients can't sleep at night or sit on their porches because of constant bright lights and dust from Antero Resources Corp.'s drilling operations and constant truck traffic. The case centers around 24 wells on six well pads in the Cherry Camp area near Salem, West Virginia. Lawyers for the Harrison plaintiffs say that this kind of development was never contemplated when mineral rights were sold a century ago.

Lawyers for Antero wrote in a court filing that the residents "offered no evidence that Antero exceeded the scope of its property and contractual rights by impacting Petitioners' surface estates beyond what is reasonable and necessary to develop its mineral leasehold."

Moreover, as horizontal drilling technology gets better, well pads are getting bigger. A 2017 analysis from the environmental consulting firm Downstream Strategies found that well pads grew from 1.6 acres, on average, to 2.4 acres between 2007 and 2014.

Over 5,000 horizontal well permits have been issued in West Virginia since 2004

Horizontal well permits are clustered in a handful of West Virginia counties

Legislators and industry lobbyists point to the natural gas boom as an engine of job growth for the state. But a report from the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, called “Falling Short,” outlines the ways the state has failed to live up to great expectations.

According to the report, the state’s six largest-producing gas counties lost around 1,600 jobs during the gas price crash from 2014 and 2016, even as natural gas production was increasing. Those counties saw some gains in 2017 when gas prices bounced back, but the cycle shows how the pivot to gas exposes West Virginia to a similar boom-bust economy as it experienced over the decades with coal, said the report, co-authored by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

“Shale development is not yet translating into long-term economic gains for these counties,” the report said.

Correction, March 11, 2019: This story originally misstated in one instance the number of horizontal well permits issued by West Virginia. The state had issued a dozen permits as of 2006 and over 5,000 total as of last year, not a dozen permits total in 2006 and over 5,000 last year.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail and ProPublica want to tell the story of the changing landscape in West Virginia, and how coal and natural gas are impacting it. West Virginians: Tell us how your community is changing. Call or text us at 347-244-2134, or email us: [emailprotected].

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Kate Mishkin covers the environment, workplace safety and energy, with a focus on coal and natural gas for the Charleston Gazette-Mail. Email Kate at [emailprotected] and follow her on Twitter at @katemishkin.

Six natural gas wells start on this gravel pad

They then run horizontally underground

0.3 miles

A Guide to Every Permitted Natural Gas Well in West Virginia (15)

Explore the Pads

Use the menus and filters below to explore nearly 1,500 pad locations for permitted wells. If a well pad isn't visible in one of the images, the image may have been taken before construction or because gas producers have not yet built a well pad. Read our full methodology. ↓

Sources: West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP) via Google Earth Engine

Methodology: To create individual images of every natural gas well pad in West Virginia, we downloaded a West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection database that included latitudes and longitudes on all permitted horizontal wells. Then, we used a clustering algorithm to group them by proximity.

We then collected aerial images taken by the USDA's National Agriculture Imagery Program within a 250-meter radius of the center of those clusters. We used Google Earth Engine to access and process the imagery. The NAIP images were originally captured between 2016 and 2018. In addition to a manual review, we also wrote code to check that no individual wells were duplicated in two separate images.

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As of 2018, West Virginia has issued over 5,000 horizontal well permits. Clustering them together identified 1,470 locations where well pads have been or could be built. A manual review of the satellite images for those locations shows that around 630 already have clear and noticeable well pads. In the remaining 840 sites with permitted wells, many show that the area has been cleared and some construction has started. It is also possible that a well pad was constructed after the most recent NAIP image available was captured.

Note: If two distinct well pads are built close enough together, they may appear as a single image in our database.

FAQs

How much can you make from a natural gas well? ›

"Some wells are profitable at $2.65 per thousand cubic feet, others need $8.10 … the median is $4.85," Medlock said.

How many acres are in a gas well unit? ›

Every gas well drilled in such pool: a) Shall be on a drilling unit consisting of (1) one hundred sixty (160) contiguous surface acres, or (2) a governmental quarter section containing not less than one hundred forty- four (144) acres or more than one hundred seventy-six (176) acres.

How many gas wells are in West Virginia? ›

The West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey provides an interactive map of over 144,000 oil and gas wells in West Virginia.

How deep is the average natural gas well? ›

Drilling continues vertically, creating a well approximately 6,000 feet (~1,828 m) deep. The depth of the well will vary by region and formation. In the Marcellus Shale the well is then drilled horizontally an average of 10,000 more feet (~3,048 meters).

How many years does a gas well produce? ›

After completion, a well can produce for as long as 20 to 40 years–providing energy and long-term revenue to governments and mineral owners and sustaining local jobs. The drilling rig and related equipment are only temporary and are removed when the well is finished.

How long does the average natural gas well last? ›

How long do gas wells produce? The life expectancy of a natural gas well in shale is 30 to 50 years, with 30 years being the most common.

How many barrels a day does the well produce? ›

The average daily production for an oil well was 21.9 barrels. For a gas well, the average was 298 Mcf per day.

Can I drill a natural gas well? ›

However, a natural gas well doesn't work in the same way at all. A water well is created by drilling a hole in the ground and letting it fill with water. A natural gas well needs to drill further, into the underground rock itself. That means these wells are deeper and therefore more dangerous to create.

How much gas does a gas well produce? ›

Lower yield wells produce one to two million cubic feet per day. Many wells yield between three and five million cubic feet per day, but gigantic wells could produce as much as twenty million cubic feet per day.

Why is gas so high in WV? ›

The second major contributor to the price of gasoline is the amount of tax that is paid. In West Virginia our state tax is now 33.4 cents per gallon. Furthermore, federal tax is an additional 18.4 cents per gallon. In West Virginia every time you fill up you pay 51.8 cents tax on every gallon.

Which region produces the most natural gas in WV? ›

WVONGA said oil and gas volumes hit record levels in 2018. Doddridge was the largest natural gas producing county in the state at 434 Bcf, followed by Tyler County at 272 Bcf and Ritchie County at 200 Bcf to round out the top-three.

What is the deepest natural gas well? ›

The world's deepest oil well, known as Z-44 Chayvo, goes over 40,000 ft (12 km) into the ground – equal to 15 Burj Khalifas (the tallest skyscraper) stacked on top of each other.

Do deeper wells mean more water? ›

Do Deeper Wells Provide More Water? Confession—The deeper the well doesn't really guarantee you will have more water volume or pressure. If you have a shallow well, it means that your water source is relatively close to the ground's surface.

Is a 300 foot well deep? ›

The average well is drilled 100 to 300 feet deep, while some shallow wells only go down to 25 feet to reach groundwater.

Can a well be fracked multiple times? ›

Several million gallons of water are needed for each fracking process, and a well can be fracked multiple times over the entire length of the borehole.

How long does it take to drill a natural gas well? ›

Typical time: Each well can be drilled in 14 to 25 days. Rig mobilization in and out takes approximately 2 to 3 days. A rig may be on site to drill multiple wells extending the time by 14 to 25 days per well.

Do you have to pay taxes on mineral rights in West Virginia? ›

Mineral interests in WV are taxed the same as your home. You will pay 60% of the appraised value on the minerals at the levy rate for your county. The value of these minerals in based on WV Code procedures and is the same for all counties in WV. Minerals are taxed at a minimum value until production begins.

Can a natural gas well freeze? ›

Freezing can occur not only when water in the gas stream mixes with temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, but also with the presence of hydrates well above the freezing mark. Freezing can occur in natural gas from gas wells and from produced gas from crude oil wells.

Why do they burn off natural gas wells? ›

Gas flaring is the burning of natural gas associated with oil extraction. The practice has persisted from the beginning of oil production over 160 years ago and takes place due to a range of issues, from market and economic constraints, to a lack of appropriate regulation and political will.

Do natural gas wells smell? ›

Or do you? Natural gas is actually odorless. That rotten-egg smell is added for safety reasons.

How many gallons should a well produce per minute? ›

The Water Well Board suggests that a minimum water supply capacity for domestic internal household use should be at least 600 gallons of water within a two-hour period once each day. This is equivalent to a flow rate of 5 gallons per minute (gpm) for two hours.

How many years does a well last? ›

The average lifespan for a well is 30–50 years. 2. How deep is the well? Drilled wells typically go down 100 feet or more.

How many barrels of oil a day does the well soon pump out? ›

They hear a bubbling. Oil that's been contained for 160 million years shoots up in a geyser 60m high. The Hamills had been hoping for 50 barrels a day. They'll soon be pumping out over 80,000.

How far down do you have to drill for natural gas? ›

Now It's time to build the infrastructure necessary to unlock the oil and natural gas trapped more than a mile below the ground. A well is drilled straight down into the ground beneath the pad. The first stage is to drill what is called the surface hole down to a depth of 100 feet below the deepest known aquifer.

How deep do they drill for natural gas? ›

natural underground formations that are under unusually high pressure for their depth, 3,000-7,600 meters (10,000-25,000 feet) below the Earth's surface.

How deep should I drill my well? ›

For drinking water wells it's best to be at least 100 feet deep so that surface contaminants cannot enter the well. The average well depth for private homes is between 100 to 800 feet [2]. You may need a deeper or shallower well if your area has different geology than another region of the country.

Do gas wells dry up? ›

While active wells are producing oil and gas, they generate obvious economic benefits, along with direct and indirect costs. Eventually, however, all wells go dry.

How much does it cost to hook up a gas well? ›

The median cost of plugging a well without restoring the surface is about $20,000. Plugging and reclaiming the surface around the well—which may be done for aesthetic, environmental, or job creation reasons—increases the median cost to $76,000. Each additional 1,000 feet of well depth increases costs by 20 percent.

What is the price of natural gas at the wellhead? ›

US Natural Gas Wellhead Price (DISCONTINUED) is at a current level of 3.35, unchanged from 3.35 last month and up from 3.14 one year ago. This is a change of 0.00% from last month and 6.69% from one year ago.

Does the US buy natural gas from Russia? ›

Russia is one of dozens of countries that supply oil and natural gas to the United States, which gives the U.S. some flexibility in banning the country's exports over its invasion of Ukraine.

How many years of natural gas is left in the US? ›

Assuming the same annual rate of U.S. dry natural gas production in 2020 of about 30 Tcf, the United States has enough dry natural gas to last about 98 years.

Who is the number 1 natural gas producer? ›

The United States is the top producing country of natural gas in the world, followed by Russia, Iran, Qatar, China, and Canada. The largest oil and gas company in the world by revenues is China's China National Petroleum/PetroChina.

Which state is rich in natural gas? ›

Natural Gas
State/Source2014-152016-17
Assam29583128
Gujarat15271580
Rajasthan11781277
Tamil Nadu1192983
15 more rows

What state is gas the most expensive? ›

Why is gas so expensive in California? California has by far the most expensive gasoline in the country for three reasons. First, the state has the second highest gas taxes in the US. California charges an extra 51 cents for every gallon of gasoline.

Is WV a rich state? ›

The South had nine of the lowest median income states with Arkansas ($37,987) and West Virginia ($39,170) closely trailing Mississippi.
...
America's wealthiest (and poorest) states.
RankStateMedian Income
1Mississippi$35,693
2Arkansas$37,987
3West Virginia$39,170
4Tennessee$40,034
6 more rows
16 Sept 2010

Which 5 US states produce the most natural gas? ›

Natural gas is produced in 32 states. The top producing states are Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Louisiana, which produce more than 50 percent of U.S. natural gas.

What is the largest consumer of West Virginia's natural gas? ›

Among the end-use sectors, West Virginia's industrial sector is the largest natural gas consumer in the state, accounting for slightly more than one-third of deliveries to end-use consumers.

How many feet deep is the average well? ›

Most household water wells range from 100 to 800 feet deep, but a few are over 1,000 feet deep. Well yields can be increased by fracturing the bedrock immediately around the drill hole and intercepted rock faults.

How many feet deep is a well? ›

Dug wells have a large diameter, are shallow (approximately 10 to 30 feet deep) and are not cased continuously. Driven wells are constructed by driving pipe into the ground. Driven wells are cased continuously and shallow (approximately 30 to 50 feet deep).

How far down is most oil? ›

Impressive numbers

Oil and gas wells can range in depth from a few hundred feet to more than 20,000 feet. In some parts of the world, wells go as deep as 30,000 feet, Zdarko says. Ranging from 1,000 to 2,500 feet deep, Aera's San Joaquin Valley wells are considered shallow.

Do wells fill up when it rains? ›

While your well is a 6” hole in the ground, it is not directly replenished by rainfall, as you might expect a cistern to function. The rainfall that seeps into the ground on your property moves through the soil at a rate of only 10 feet per year.

Why deep well is prohibited? ›

Since 2015, groundwater extraction has been prohibited throughout Metro Manila and certain parts of Bulacan and Cavite provinces, in anticipation of the rise in illegal construction of deep wells during dry spells.

How far from the bottom of a well should the pump be? ›

Pumps should never be set directly at the bottom of a well. It is usually best to place the pump 10 to 20 feet up from the bottom of the well.

How many gallons does a 300 foot well hold? ›

For example, a 6-inch diameter well that is 300 feet deep contains 450 gallons of water (300 ft.

What are the 4 types of wells? ›

4 Water Well Types That You Should Learn About
  • Dug Well. Dug wells are shallow and they are not the best option for your drinking water. ...
  • Bored Well. ...
  • Driven Point Well. ...
  • Drilled Well.
13 Jun 2014

How far away from your house can your well be? ›

Your local health department or building department can provide you with details. The minimum distance from a driven or drilled well to a residential structure is typically 5 to 10 feet measured to the farthest building projection. This is usually the roof overhang.

Are gas wells a good investment? ›

Investing in oil wells is lucrative strategy for avoiding the stock market and often times yields significant tax benefits. Oil makes the world go around, and that is certainly not going to change any time soon, because there is still a high demand for oil.

How much royalties do you get from an oil well? ›

For a producing well, royalties could easily be 10 to 20 times the bonus payment in the first year of production alone. Private landowners are normally offered the “standard” royalty of 1/8 share of production.

How much money does an oil well make a day? ›

In the event oil and gas were found and the wells produce, then the royalties kick in. So if the oil well produce 100 barrels a day, and the price of oil is $80 per barrel that month, then the cash flow is 100x$80 = $8,000/day The royalty owner, who agreed to 15% royalty, would receive $8,000 x 0.15 = $1,200/day.

How much does a single oil well produce? ›

The average daily production for an oil well was 21.9 barrels. For a gas well, the average was 298 Mcf per day.

Do gas wells dry up? ›

While active wells are producing oil and gas, they generate obvious economic benefits, along with direct and indirect costs. Eventually, however, all wells go dry.

Why do they burn off natural gas wells? ›

Gas flaring is the burning of natural gas associated with oil extraction. The practice has persisted from the beginning of oil production over 160 years ago and takes place due to a range of issues, from market and economic constraints, to a lack of appropriate regulation and political will.

Why do gas wells burn? ›

Typically, venting or flaring occur because there aren't pipelines close enough to a well to capture and transport the gas, or because gas prices are so low that it's cheaper to discard the gas than to try to sell it. Venting can also occur during equipment breakdowns.

How often are mineral royalties paid? ›

Royalty is a portion of the proceeds from the sale of production which is paid monthly to the mineral rights owner. The royalty is usually described in the lease as a fraction such as 1/8th, or 1/6th.

Do mineral rights ever expire? ›

Even if mineral rights have been previously sold on your property, they could be expired. There is no one answer to how long mineral rights may last. Each mineral rights agreement will have different terms. A mineral rights agreement may range from a few to 20 years.

How often do you get royalty checks? ›

Initially, it can take five months or longer before you receive your first royalty check from the first sale on your well. From that point on, royalty checks will generally continue to be issued and mailed by the end of each month—as long as the well is producing.

How many barrels a day does the average oil well produce? ›

Most U.S. oil and natural gas production comes from wells producing between 50 barrels of oil equivalent per day and 1,600 barrels of oil equivalent per day.

What is the highest producing oil well in history? ›

The Drake Well is a 69.5-foot-deep (21.2 m) oil well in Cherrytree Township, Venango County in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania, the success of which sparked the first oil boom in the United States. The well is the centerpiece of the Drake Well Museum located 3 miles (5 km) south of Titusville.

How long does it take for an oil well to produce oil? ›

Simultaneously, the number of DUC wells increased as the monthly average time to complete a well expanded from about three months to nearly one year. In spite of the lower prices, the average time to drill a new well remained less than two months.

What is the average size well? ›

Most household water wells range from 100 to 800 feet deep, but a few are over 1,000 feet deep. Well yields can be increased by fracturing the bedrock immediately around the drill hole and intercepted rock faults.

How many barrels can a well produce a day? ›

Average Daily Oil Well Production

When a large oil well begins producing, successful drills can expect a daily production of anywhere from 500 to 5,000 barrels per day.

Can a well produce both oil and gas? ›

In 2011 and 2012, more than 50% of new wells produced both oil and natural gas.

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