Gas company has a bull’s-eye on one PitCo well

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The four photos above were submitted by SG Interests I Ltd as part of a drilling application. The location is in a remote northwestern corner of Pitkin County in the North Thompson Creek drainage. Source: COGCC

Of the pack of natural gas wells that SG Interests wants to drill in Pitkin County, there is one lead dog, and that’s well 8-89-31 #1.

And if 8-89-31 #1 keeps its lead status, it would be the first gas well drilled and fracked in Pitkin County in decades.

While 19 wells have been drilled in the northwest corner of the county since 1947, there is not a single actively producing gas well in Pitkin County today, according to the BLM.

By contrast, there are 10,102 active wells in neighboring Garfield County, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC).

Well 8-89-31 #1 would be drilled at 9,727 feet, high in the North Thompson Creek drainage 14 miles southwest of Carbondale.

And while gas wells are indeed rare in Pitkin County, 8-89-31 #1 is proposed to be drilled on the same site as a well that was drilled, plugged and abandoned in 1977 by Rainbow Resources of Wyoming.

“The fact that there is an old existing well pad there, and the road just needs slight upgrades, makes it the easiest and best well to start with — the first well to drill, the least expensive well to drill,” said Robbie Guinn, vice president of land management for SG Interests. The Houston-based company owns leases on land where potential drilling may occur.

In all, SG Interests has submitted applications to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for permission to drill six wells – and intends to file for three more – in the area of well 8-89-31 #1. Eight of the nine would be in Pitkin County. One is in Garfield County.

SG Interests also has asked the state for permits to drill two of those nine wells — one in Garfield and one in Pitkin.

So, only one well in Pitkin County is now being reviewed by both the federal government and the state, and that’s 8-89-31 #1.

SG Interests wants to start working on the well site May 15.

But the U.S. Forest Service, which owns the land where the well is proposed, said it is going to take at least two years for it to complete an environmental review of the nine well sites and the scope of the project.

The “31” in 8-89-31 reflects the fact that it is in Section 31, in Township 85, Range 89W, which can be found on the same U.S. Geological Survey topographical map (Stony Ridge) as the Spring Gulch cross-country ski area and the Yank Creek cow camp.

The well site is in what many consider the heart of the Thompson Divide creeks area.

It’s also on a BLM lease, which is set to expire on June 1 absent a suspension of the lease terms, and just outside of nearby designated roadless areas. The BLM could extend the leases if asked to do so by SG Interests.

Factory in a forest

Guinn said his company can drill responsibly on the site, but the permit applications on file with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission show that drilling well 8-89-31 #1 will be no small-scale task.

The company first intends to rebuild 200 feet of the old access road and create a solid 18-foot-wide roadway to handle the heavy truck traffic.

Next, SG Interests would bring in earth moving equipment and level an acre-and-a-half of forest land now partially covered with fir, spruce and pine trees.

In all, SG Interests would move 4,235 cubic yards of dirt over 1.79 acres to build a bermed platform for a drilling pad and wastewater pit, according to construction drawings filed as part of the application.

Then, after the drilling rig is in place, around-the-clock operations would start in order to drill and hydrologically fracture the well, which could take six weeks.

SG Interests said it will properly manage the noise, dust, hazardous fluids, chemicals, wastewater, garbage, sewage and stormwater runoff on the site using “best management practices.”

Adding to the industrial scene in the woods will be a 15- to 20-foot-tall flare tower on the edge of the drill pad to burn off excess gas coming out of the well.

“The flaring of gas does not create sparking and is thus not a fire risk to surrounding vegetation so long as the flare is a reasonable distance from combustible vegetation,” SG Interests states on its government application form to the BLM.

SG Interests also notes that “firearms and dogs” won’t be allowed on site and that “the drilling crew will have sufficient fire equipment on hand during the fire season for suppressing fires on the well pad or access road.”

There will be three trailers on the well-lit and constantly busy drilling pad for key personnel.

Once the well is complete, pipes would be cemented in place some 5,500 feet down in order to reach the gas in the sandstone of the Corcoran Formation, a geological layer of rock where natural gas tends to pool. The well could then last for 30 to 40 years.

Truckin’

All of that work depends on trucks making 55-mile laps between Glenwood Springs and the well site, which is about 3 miles inside the Pitkin County line.

The trucks would bring crews, earth moving machines, gravel, the drill rig, storage tanks, over a mile of pipes, 900 bags of cement, various chemicals, fuels, gels and greases, big storage tanks, and other supplies and equipment to the site.

In all, it would take up to 600 round-trips from heavy dump trucks, semi trucks, water trucks and pick-up trucks to get the job done, according to both the BLM application and truck-trip estimates from SG.

The proposed haul route has the trucks exiting from I-70, coming through Glenwood Springs on Highway 82 to 27th Street and then going through the Midland Avenue roundabout leading to Four Mile Road, also known as County Road 117.

It’s then 8 miles up to the Sunlight Ski Area, and another 16 miles on forest roads 300 and 300.4K to the old access road and the drilling site. (On page 45 of the DeLoreme Atlas & Gazetteer, Road 300.4K is labeled as “Well No 5 Rd.”)

“There are impacts,” Guinn acknowledged. “You can’t get around that. Oil and gas has impacts.”

Already a gas field

Guinn points to the current impacts from another natural gas facility not far from the 8-89-31 #1 site, the Wolf Creek Storage Area.

At that facility, SourceGas stores regionally produced gas in old wells to better meet seasonal demands, including from towns between Glenwood Springs and Aspen.

There are ten wells in Wolf Creek facility, which is entirely in Pitkin County. Of those wells, seven are older wells used to store gas and three are monitoring wells, which were drilled in the 1980s and 1990s, according to the BLM.

Guinn said drilling well 8-89-31 #1 won’t be much different in scope and scale than the maintenance activity in the Wolf Creek facility each construction season.

“Sometimes you have to go clean out wells, you have to go re-perforate wells, you just have to do various remedial work on oil and gas wells throughout the life of the well,” Guinn said about recent seasonal work in the Wolf Creek field.

And, he said, all of the trucks and rigs serving the Wolf Creek field also use Four Mile Road and Forest Road 300, so he thinks SG Interests should be able to use the same route to drill 8-89-31 #1.

“All of that equipment, there is only one way I know of to get it up there,” Guinn said.

This is a map from the BLM that shows the location of the Wolf Creek storage field and the area around well 8-89-31. The well itself is proposed at the end of the road shown ending in the square section labeled as “31.” The access road to the well is near Wolf Creek and under the words on the map, in the lower left-hand corner, “gas well.” (You can zoom in on the map using the slider button in the upper right-hand corner). Source: BLM

Editor’s note: This story was also published in collaboration with the Aspen Daily News on Feb. 11, 2013.

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