Antero: Silt Mesa/Peach Valley drilling a low priority |

Antero: Silt Mesa/Peach Valley drilling a low priority

Given the higher risk involved, Antero Resources doesn’t plan to drill for natural gas north of Silt for at least a year, “if ever,” a company official says.The company also is unlikely to drill anywhere within two miles of the Grand Hogback, Antero representative Terry Dobkins told residents at a meeting Friday night at the Silt fire station.Antero has leased much of the area between Peach Valley and Rifle, north of the Colorado River and south of the Grand Hogback ridge. But whether it drills anywhere there will depend on the success of wells it drills immediately south and west of Silt this summer.”We don’t know if this is going to be economically productive,” he said of the company’s attempts to develop natural gas north of existing gas fields south of Silt and Rifle.Dobkins, vice president for production at Antero, also said the company has no plans for coal-bed methane development in the area. He said the company doesn’t have the knowledge or technology to try to pursue that resource, and it’s not clear whether enough methane gas is in the coal to make it worthwhile.Antero plans to begin its local natural-gas exploration by drilling wells in the area of some gravel pits along the river between Silt and Rifle, and in the Valley Farms area just south of Silt.”We’re starting down where we think the risk is least,” Dobkins said.If wells there prove productive enough, the company would then start drilling gradually farther north and east, to see to how far productive gas fields extend.The sandstone formation that holds western Garfield County’s plentiful natural-gas reserves lies several thousand feet underground south of Silt, but surfaces at the Grand Hogback. At some point in between, the formation angles sharply upward, Dobkins said.Antero estimates that the underground upturn occurs several miles south of the Hogback, along a line parallel to it, running from southeast of Silt to northwest of it. Where it has tilted, the formation probably has leaked gas to the surface and drilling is less likely to be productive, Dobkins said. However, it’s possible that geological faults have trapped some gas, and that rich localized pockets exist.Seismic testing would tell geologists where the upturn is, but not whether the sandstone holds gas there, Dobkins said.He said the cost of leasing mineral rights north of Silt was low enough to make it worth the gamble.”We’re willing to take the risk that if things are successful we’ve got the land tied up. It’s cheap insurance. The money up front is not a lot of money compared to the drilling costs,” he said.Dobkins said he hopes he’s wrong in guessing that the gas resource plays out closer to the Hogback. But many of those in attendance Friday hoped he was right. They crowded around a map he had prepared, trying to gauge where their properties were in relation to a blue line on an Antero map that represented where the upturn in the sandstone formation is believed to be.”I’m on the north side,” said Jim Roark. “If you don’t want this (drilling) up there then it sounds like a good thing, and I’d just as soon not have it.”Roark operates a small farm at Silt Mesa and Harvey Gap roads and said he’s worried about how his sheep would react to drilling activity.Even with Antero’s uncertainty about the promise of drilling north of the river, residents also were interested in the map’s depiction of where mineral rights had been leased. Much of the map was yellow, indicating square miles that the company had fully or partly leased. Unleased areas were shown in white.”I live in one of the little white squares up there in Peach Valley,” said Michael Gross, a member of the Garfield County Energy Advisory Board. But he wasn’t sure how comfortable to feel about that.”I’m surrounded by a lot of yellow,” he said.But Dobkins indicated that the Peach Valley area is among Antero’s lowest priorities for gas development, given the high risk of failure there.Antero is expecting to drill at 20-acre underground well spacing. Companies have been drilling at densities as great as every 10 acres in Garfield County, but EnCana is having less success with that density near where Antero’s leases are, Dobkins said.Antero is bringing in a new Italian rig and could drill 12 or even more wells directionally from each surface pad. While current technology allows for about a 2,300-foot horizontal reach underground from a pad while drilling directionally, it’s possible the rigs could reach as far as 3,000 feet, Dobkins said.The rigs should require only about a two-acre pad, he said. They also are smaller and quieter than many rigs now in use in the area. And they will make use of a closed mud system, as opposed to some rigs that use an open pit to hold drilling mud.The company could have three rigs operating locally within the next year. It also is obtaining permits for a $3 million pipeline to tie into existing gas transportation lines, but will hold off on building the line until it sees if its initial wells are productive.Dobkins said Antero also is willing to work with area residents on their efforts to create a communitywide plan helping guide how drilling proceeds north of the river, and what practices are put into place to minimize impacts. But he said the challenge will be getting residents to agree on what they want, because every landowner’s interests can be different.If Antero ends up drilling extensively in the area, it eventually may sell its interests and start over again, because Dobkins and others at Antero don’t want to operate a big company, he said. For that reason, he encouraged residents to negotiate thorough lease and surface-use agreements, which will remain in force with whatever company ends up with the contracts.”I won’t be alive forever. It’s not going to be my kids who are working with you, so make sure your contracts are how you want them,” he said.

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