State lets Barrett drill in moratorium area
RIFLE Bill Barrett Corp. won permission Monday to drill up to 20 natural-gas wells within a moratorium area established last year because of a seep into West Divide Creek.The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, meeting in Rifle, decided that new, stricter drilling regulations in the Mamm Creek Field south of Silt and Rifle have proven successful at limiting the chance of another seep occurring. Commission members also believe data from Barretts drilling will help regulators and the industry better understand the geology of the area and how seeps can be prevented.However, residents living near the gas seep had argued for holding Barrett to the moratorium pending the findings of a hydrogeological study to be conducted in the area.If we poke more holes in there what will it bring in the future? asked resident Hermann Staufer.COGCC Chairman Peter Mueller believes the lack of problems experienced in the drilling of more than 200 wells under the stricter local rules since the seep provide adequate assurance that Barrett can drill safely within the moratorium area.There is additional information that has come to light. The result has been positive, he said.The COGCC imposed the moratorium after gas from an EnCana Oil & Gas USA well seeped into the creek. The moratorium applied to land within a two-mile radius of the EnCana well.Barrett asked the COGCC for permission to drill wells in two areas just inside the edge of the moratorium area. The moratorium remains in effect for the rest of the area, and for all other energy developers, including EnCana.COGCCs staff had recommended approving Barretts request, and Garfield County Commissioners decided not to oppose it.Jaime Adkins, northwest Colorado area engineer for the COGCC, said 203 wells have been drilled under the stricter regulations for the Mamm Creek Field, and the states oversight has proven to be 100 percent effective, with no uncontrolled releases of natural gas occurring.EnCana drilled most of those wells, and Barrett drilled 30 of them.Sixteen of the wells showed abnormally high wellhead pressures, but the state was always notified immediately, and additional monitoring and venting of gas took care of the problems, Adkins said. He said preventing another seep is a matter of attention to detail.COGCC commissioners indicated that part of the problem last year was in how EnCana responded to data suggesting problems with its well. And commissioner John Ashby said he believes EnCana is doing a better job now.I think weve got this turned around, that everyone has learned from this original failure, he said.While geological faulting in the area has been cited as a factor in the seep, Barrett officials say such faulting is common throughout the Piceance Basin, the site of heavy gas development in western Garfield County. They say higher geological formations keep the gas trapped, and believe the gas that seeped may have been able to migrate upward through the EnCana well bore to a fault leading to the surface.The state rules applying to the Mamm Creek Field seek to ensure that wells are properly sealed with cement to keep gas from rising up the well bore.Bill Griffin, who lives near the seep area, said three-dimensional seismic testing should be done to understand the areas geology better before drilling is allowed there.The COGCCs approval spells out testing requirements for water wells near where Barrett will drill, and requires monitoring of surface water for seeps. The company also will provide the state with subsurface data not usually required of energy developers.The COGCC also required the first five of the 20 wells to drilled from one rig, so Barrett will proceed slowly in case any problems develop. Barrett had hoped to drill wells simultaneously from two rigs.Steve Cumella, senior geologist with Barrett, said after the COGCC decision that he understands its rationale for limiting the initial work to one rig. But Barrett had hoped to drill at the same time from both areas it plans to develop within the moratorium area in order to get data from both areas right away.The sooner we have that information, the more information is available for this hydrogeological study, he said.He said it probably will take about two and a half months to drill the first five wells.Altogether, the company plans to drill 17 wells from existing pads, and three from a new pad, in the moratorium area.Staufer said he wasnt surprised by the COGCCs decision.The gas industry is just too powerful to back down, he said. If one of these guys on the commission lived right next to the seep area, theyd feel differently than they do now.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. email@example.com
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