MORGANTOWN - As the executive chairman and founder of the geophysical services company MicroSeismic, Peter Duncan knows a thing or two about drilling for oil and natural gas in shale formations like the Marcellus and Utica.
"We have drilled through these rocks for decades, but we never knew how to get the hydrocarbons out of them," Duncan told a group of students and professors during a presentation at West Virginia University last week.
That all changed with horizontal drilling, which allowed companies to access previously inaccessible pockets of gas from a single well site on the surface, Duncan said.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, also is key to the gas boom. He said fracking is a process that has been used in the United States since the 1940s.
"This is not new technology," he said, noting about 2.5 million gas wells have been fracked over the years.
Founded in 2003, MicroSeismic pioneered the use of "microseismic monitoring," a process that allows workers to listen to the naturally occurring, low-energy seismic noise emitted from a gas reservoir during fracking. Such reservoir monitoring allows an operator to detect patterns of fluid movement and fracture development, which ultimately enables improved reservoir management.
"Our technology allows us to watch the rocks as they break," he said, noting this allows more precise fracking operations.
Some who live close to active fracking operations, such as in Wetzel and Marshall counties, have complained of the loud noise involved with the process. Duncan is fully aware of this side effect.
"A frack operation is a huge noise source," he said.
In terms of his overall outlook for drilling in the Utica and Marcellus shales, as well as North Dakota's Bakken Shale and the Eagle Ford and Barnett shales in Texas, Duncan believes the industry must move forward with safety as a top priority.
"Everyone wants this resource. It means jobs; it means highways; it means universities," he said. "But it needs to be done safely."