Earthshaking experiment planned near Rulison |

Earthshaking experiment planned near Rulison

RIFLE – A deserted patch of land north of Rulison could be the focus of a cutting-edge natural gas exploration experiment by the Colorado School of Mines this fall.

Tom Davis, Ph.D., a professor in the geophysics department at the School of Mines in Golden, was at Rifle City Hall Thursday addressing the Northwest Colorado Oil and Gas Forum.

At the meeting, Davis explained to attendees his proposal to identify underground natural gas locations using seismic imaging.

“Using this technology, we hope to minimize the number of wells since we’ll be able to better locate natural gas locations,” he said.

The School of Mines project is being sponsored by 24 oil and gas international companies around the world in hopes of using a more efficient method of locating gas.

One of the sponsors, Williams Production, is a Tulsa-based energy company that conducts natural gas drilling in Western Colorado.

“Williams is one of the 24 sponsors,” said Davis. “We at the School of Mines put out calls for projects to the (mining) industry. We have received a lot of interest in developing a more efficient kind of technology for locating natural gas. This is a true example of education and industry working together.”

Steve Soychak, Williams’ district manager, explained Williams’ interest in the School of Mines’ project.

“We are looking to lessen the impact of gas drilling on the environment and on people,” he said.

Davis said in addition to lessening environmental impacts, the project directly benefits the oil and gas industry.

“Our sponsors are looking for ways to drill wells more productively,” Davis said. “They want to drill in the right locations so they don’t have to drill here, there and everywhere. Plus, it’s much more economical to drill where there are richer sources of natural gas.”

Williams currently holds mineral leasing rights on 11,000 acres in Western Garfield County north of the Colorado River and west of Rifle. If approved, the School of Mines’ experiment will use School of Mines’ new method of seismic imaging on five square miles within Williams’ leased land.

Davis plans to use a vehicle called a thumper truck to roll through the designated experiment area, sending low frequency, low decibel pulses into the ground.

“The truck’s pulses shake the ground both upwards and side-to-side,” Davis explained, “which allows us to find cracks in the ground.”

Those cracks are where natural gas is typically found.

Davis said the new method has less impacts on the environment than the standard method which is to drill holes deep into the ground and pack dynamite into the holes. Cracks are formed when the dynamite is detonated.

“We’re only using one vehicle, which causes lower impacts over the terrain,” he said. “And we’ll have a team of about 20 people on foot who will implant receivers into the ground to take readings. We’ll likely take 1,500 readings within this five-square mile site.”

A team using the standard method can employ as many as 40 people, and use trucks, explosives and drilling equipment to drill the area, detonate dynamite and take readings.

When an audience member at Thursday’s meeting asked about the effects of the technique on wildlife, Davis said they’re minimal. Once the truck drives through, and readings are taken, he said, the only thing left behind are tire tracks and footprints.

“This is a much more efficient approach,” Davis said. “There’s no noise, far fewer people and vehicles, and less distress on the environment. We plan to stay in the low country. We won’t doing any of this work on the high mesas in the region. Plus it’s more effective in helping us locate natural gas.”

Davis said he plans to take a week to 10 days to complete the experiment. If the experiment goes well, he said the new seismic imaging method will be used internationally.

“This is a technique of the future,” Davis said.

The School of Mines needs to receive approval from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission before proceeding with the experiment this fall. The commission has 30 days to review the proposal once it is submitted.

Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518

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