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From the C-Suites to the Media, When It Comes to Energy, We Need More Balance, Less Fear

Salena Zito on

When is the last time you saw anyone in the media dispassionately show the public what is going on in the energy industry? Or showed you what happens at a well pad?

Derek Yanchak is the other side of the story. The 34-year-old Washington County native is the Completions Engineering and Operations Manager for Range Resources at its Dalbo well site here in southwest Pennsylvania.

Yanchak is like the thousands of other professionals working in the natural gas industry -- young, well-educated (Penn State 2010) and deeply connected to the land he works on. It matters to him what goes in and out of the ground, because he fishes, swims, hikes and hunts in the same region where his company drills.

The Dalbo well pad is just outside the city of Pittsburgh, where Allegheny, Beaver and Washington counties converge. To get here, you need to traverse the old Lincoln Highway, split off near the town of Clinton at the "Y" in the road, and then travel a mile or so until you nearly pass an innocuous dirt road.

Outside of the occasional truck going back and forth, no noise is coming from the entrance to the pad. That is a sharp contrast with the old Jones and Laughlin steel mill that once hugged the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh, whose operational hum echoed throughout the city. Until you get through the guard gate, the only sounds you hear here are pastoral.

The first thing you see at the pad is a solar panel. Yanchak explains that it is used from time to time as a power source at the pad. The second thing you see is a lot of men and women in hard hats checking wells, recycling water, and using a lot of computers to measure and gauge the entire operation.

 

Yanchak explains that they are operating four wells right now. "It is a pretty typical operation because this is a reentry," he said. He points to the green tanks that have just pulled up to the pad. "That means we had drill wells before, and there is wells producing here prior to us coming back." He notes that they are "re-utilizing existing locations and existing infrastructure. It drives down costs and allows us to not have to build new pipelines, instead just kind of refill those existing pipelines to get to those processing facilities."

Everyone here works a 12-hour shift, whether he is an engineer, geologist, chemist, skilled laborer, power generator, valve operator or IT specialist. "In a 12-hour shift, we'll have anywhere from 25 to 30 people out here at a time," explains Yanchak.

For years, the fleet equipment that Range Resources used was diesel -- which is more dangerous and expensive. The entire fleet went electric in 2019; the turbine on the pad is using natural gas to create electricity around the fleet.

Yanchak says traditional fracking uses diesel-fueled engines to produce electricity to power pressure pumps for hydraulic fracturing operations. "Electric fracking uses natural gas from the well pad to power turbines to create electricity."

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