Fracing, talking two keys to wells development
Editors note: This is the fourth in a series of occasional stories chronicling the development of natural gas on the property of Jim and Jackie Nesbitt south of Silt.Drilling for natural gas is about communicating in more ways than one.On a recent May afternoon, workers in red Halliburton overalls strove to open lines of communication underground in a recently drilled natural-gas well on land south of Silt. Halliburton specializes in hydraulic fracturing, or fracing, which is the process of helping create openings in tight sandstone formations to improve the flow of natural gas up wells. On this day, the company was using a new and faster fracing process it has developed and implemented in other gas fields but is first trying in Garfield County on the property of Jim and Jackie Nesbitt.Gas development involves communicating with landowners, too. Since work began on this well pad over the winter, Jim Nesbitt has repeatedly found that when lines of communication remain open between him and Bill Barrett Corp., he has been satisfied with the company and the work its contractors have done.Its only when communications break down that concerns crop up for Nesbitt, as when workers installed a noisy pump and started pulling water from his pond for the fracing.That action initially upset Nesbitt. He had agreed to sell Barrett pond water for use in drilling, but it didnt use much after all. Then, after the drilling rig pulled out after finishing a fourth well on the Nesbitt pad, suddenly contractors were tapping his pond.It took some discussions with Barrett representatives before he understood that part of the drilling process is fracing, so the water use complied with the earlier agreement.But there had been no discussion of a pump bring operated by the pond, Nesbitt said. He eventually received apologies from Barrett representatives for failing to keep him informed. They also offered to put him and Jackie up at a hotel when they learned workers would need to run the pump at night, but Nesbitt declined after learning that inconvenience would last only a matter of days.Other than the occasional hiccup like the one over the pond water, Nesbitt continues to be generally pleased with the treatment he is receiving as Barrett continues to develop gas on his land.It just caught me by surprise, he said of the situation with the water. I like to be kept informed.Nesbitt has had good working relationships with representatives for Barrett and its contractors. But those representatives change a lot over the course of a wells drilling and completion. Even the Barrett landman who acts as a liaison with Nesbitt is different from the one with whom Nesbitt first worked.Jeff Fandrich, the current landman at the Nesbitt site, said that ideally one landman would work with a property owner from beginning to end, but thats not always realistic when a company is as busy as Barrett is. It is working on gas leases on 20,000 acres of property south of Silt alone.When 35 fracing tanks had to be trucked in to the well pad, that not only surprised but amazed Nesbitt. But he appears accustomed to, and accepting of, the occasional bursts of traffic associated with his well pad.A nearby resident has had a harder time with this aspect of the gas development at the Nesbitt property and elsewhere in the area. Oni Butterfly said when the parade of trucks related to the fracing work went by on their way to the Nesbitt well pad, the diesel fumes were overwhelming at her house.In March, a vehicle a subcontractor was driving on the Nesbitt site crashed into a canyon on Butterflys property. Barrett has worked since to mark the sharp turn in the road better, and company representatives say it also requires compliance with traffic laws by its contractors at all its well pads.But theres still the issue of traffic volumes on the road. Some days, truck traffic isnt bad at Butterflys house, and other days its nonstop, night and day, she said.I close my windows, close my doors. On a hot day its going to be pretty tough this summer.Pat Smith, who lives down the road from Butterfly, has been less bothered by the drilling-related traffic. But she said its probably worse for Butterfly because of her houses location near the truck route, at a point where vehicles must negotiate a tight curve.Thats hard for her because she takes the brunt of it. Its right around her house. I can understand why she wouldnt feel so comfortable about that, Smith said.One day the wind was just right where I got a big dose of diesel fumes, and I can see her point. If you get that all the time it will asphyxiate you.Employees with Halliburton, which does much of the fracing on wells drilled in western Garfield County, believe they can reduce at least the fracing-related part of drilling traffic if the new method proves successful.Halliburton fracd two of the Nesbitt wells the traditional way. The method involves dropping an electric wire line down a well and setting off bullet-like charges that perforate the sides of the well. Then water and sand are injected at high pressure into the surrounding, gas-bearing formation. The sand props open the sand grains within the formation, and the water is brought back up the well, allowing most of it to be reused.The process is time-consuming because crews must stop to install temporary plugs higher and higher up the well, so the fracing can be focused on different formations. Then the plugs must be drilled out.The new process, which Halliburton is trying on the two other Nesbitt wells for comparative purposes, makes use of a coil tube instead of a wire line. The tube is rolled off a giant spool and inserted down the well. At the bottom, a nozzle directs water pressure through the tube to perforate the well. The process allows sand to be built up from the bottom, acting in place of plugs in allowing crews to focus on different geological zones as they work their way up the well.The process allows more sand to be placed in formations, improving gas flow. And because its faster, crews make less trips to the well pad, reducing the impact for area residents.Barrett also had four tanks of carbon dioxide trucked to the site, initially thinking it might use the carbon dioxide for fracing, but later deciding to try other methods instead. Fandrich said it was better for the company to have the tanks on site and available from the beginning, in case they were needed, rather than making a last-minute decision to bring them in the kind of thing that can contribute to trucks speeding on area roads.Barretts going the extra mile to try to keep people as unbothered as possible. Those were my marching orders, actually, Fandrich said.Nesbitt said he doesnt see speeding associated with Barretts drilling traffic.Like Nesbitt, Smith has been impressed by Barretts operations.Theyve been very nice, as far as I can see, she said.Barrett is drilling two properties down from Smiths, and just this week she was surprised to see a second well pad apparently going in close by.Theyre not too intrusive right now, Smith said of Barretts current drilling operations. Theyre noisy, but nothing extreme.Area drill rigs put on quite a light show at night, stealing the spotlight from the stars Smith enjoys viewing from her rural home.To please myself I call them candles, Smith said of the rigs.She worries about silt that has shown up in her water well.I need to get it tested. I dont remember it being like this, she said.She said Barrett has agreed to test her well and pond water.Smith recently experienced shaking in her home, apparently connected to problems at a nearby well drilled before Barrett began developing gas in the area.It was like an earthquake, she said. I dont know what they were doing.Smith retired on 38 acres, and she and her husband dont own their mineral rights. Barrett hasnt approached them about drilling on their property, although they worry that might change. For now, the company seems to be drilling where property owners are volunteering to let them do so, Smith said.She hopes Barrett isnt finding as much gas as it had expected in the area, so maybe the drilling will come to an end.As for Nesbitt, he said he hopes Barrett has success drilling on his property. He owns none of his mineral rights but is happy that those who do may earn some decent royalties off Barretts efforts. Nesbitt also said he figured that if Barrett was going to drill on his land, he could do something to give him a financial interest in it succeeding: He bought stock in the company.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. email@example.com
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