Drilling on Silt Mesa not likely, gas company says | PostIndependent.com

Drilling on Silt Mesa not likely, gas company says

Early results from natural gas drilling near the Grand Hogback aren’t proving promising, an energy company official says.”So you can breathe a sigh of relief,” Antero Resources executive Terry Dobkins told residents at a public meeting in Silt Thursday night.Many were there because of concerns that gas development is headed to areas such as Silt Mesa and Peach Valley, north of the Colorado River. Most drilling up to now in the Silt area has been concentrated south of the river.Dobkins, vice president of production for Antero, said the company is having success drilling just south of Silt and along Highway 6 just north of the river between Silt and Rifle. It plans to drill about 40 wells in those locations this year, probably using three rigs.But an exploratory well it drilled farther northeast of Rifle probably will be uneconomic, he said.”If I had to make a call on it today I’d say this well will eventually be plugged,” Dobkins said.He said Williams Production has had similar results from drilling north of Rifle near the Grand Hogback.Antero’s results aren’t all that surprising to company officials, who say they have been guessing that it won’t have much success drilling within two or three miles of the Grand Hogback, to the north of Rifle and Silt. That’s where Antero geologists believe a gas-rich sandstone formation bottoms out and begins to angle sharply upward, eventually surfacing at the Grand Hogback.Dobkins said the sandstone compresses at that bottom, meaning it is less permeable and gas flows less freely. Where it turns upwards, it’s possible much of the gas has escaped to the surface, he said.That’s in keeping with what many geologists have long believed. So residents of places such as Silt Mesa and Peach Valley were surprised when Antero began leasing much of those areas in recent years.Dobkins previously has described some of those leases as cheap insurance, in case drilling in those areas should prove productive. He said Thursday that the company also had to buy some leases as parts of packages, even though some were so close to the Grand Hogback that the company doubts they will be worth developing.”Sometimes you have to buy the whole car when you only want half the car,” he said.Antero is drilling the sixth well so far in its local venture. Dobkins said the company plans to continue expanding as far northward as drilling remains profitable. He said big jumps in natural gas prices, and different technological approaches to help get gas out of less permeable sandstone, could increase the company’s hopes for successfully developing gas closer to the Grand Hogback. “When we get together in another six months I hope I have a much more interesting story for you,” he said.But he’s not optimistic.”I just don’t think there’s going to be any commercial production up here at all,” he said, pointing on a map to the area approaching the Grand Hogback.Meanwhile, the company has been experiencing difficulties with one technological innovation – new, Italian-made drilling rigs. The rigs are half the size of regular rigs, reducing their visual profile, and they also are quieter.But they have presented all kinds of challenges to Antero. Some parts work, some don’t; some parts are hard to get, Dobkins said. Some of the rig’s parts are sized according to the metric system, some according to the English system. Some aspects of the rig require training that American crews don’t have. And it’s taking twice as long as normal to drill a well with the rig, which is being used to drill deeper underground than it was designed to do.”If we can fix the problems I’d love to keep it. The reasons we brought it here are still valid,” Dobkins said.But for now, “I’m going to go with conventional rigs, something that anyone can fix,” he said.He said Antero will look into ways those rigs can run more quietly, and perhaps with less obtrusive lighting. The company also will used closed-loop drilling mud systems, another feature of the Italian rigs, but one also available on some conventional rigs. The alternative is to store the mud in open pits.Christy Hamrick, a Rifle-area resident who helped lead an effort to create a community development plan to responsibly guide drilling north of the Colorado River between Rifle and New Castle, said Antero’s problems with the new rig are disappointing.”But we just have to look into some other options with that,” she said. “… I still think we’re going to get a better answer than if the question was never asked.”Hamrick and others who helped draft the development plan have praised Antero’s willingness to participate in it, and hope it will reduce the industry’s impacts on residents.”Antero has been a really good player, as you saw here tonight,” she said.Galaxy Energy, which also plans to drill in the area, is a participant in the plan as well. Galaxy also had been invited to present its 2006 drilling forecast at Thursday’s meeting but no one from the company attended. The company could not be reached for comment.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.com

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