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Well – wildlife doesn’t seem to mind

Post Independent Writer

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of occasional stories following the development of a natural gas well on the property of Jim Nesbitt, who lives in the Dry Hollow area south of Silt.Jim and Jackie Nesbitt aren’t wondering only how they will adjust to natural gas drilling on their land. They’re thinking about the deer and elk, too.By Dennis WebbPost Independent StaffJim and Jackie Nesbitt aren’t wondering only how they will adjust to natural gas drilling on their land. They’re thinking about the deer and elk, too.So far, so good.Last week, deer – and 6-inch-diameter pipeline awaiting burying – lined the side of a new access road to a well pad on the Nesbitts’ 170-acre property. The deer didn’t seem too bothered by the heavy equipment operator lifting pipes and the welders connecting them farther down the road. Nor, says Jeremy Hacking of Vernal, Utah, were deer or elk bothered by some shallow drilling work he and Josh McNeill were doing last week on the well pad.”I was making all sorts of noise and they’re just standing there, eating away,” he said of the elk.Jim Nesbitt is glad to see that for now, anyway, big game seems to be sticking around his property. He said a herd of 300 elk has frequented the ranch over the years, but he worries whether gas development will drive them away.Both big game and the Nesbitts appear fairly accepting of the work Bill Barrett Corp. has done there to date. In fact, in retrospect, Nesbitt feels obligated to take back previous criticism he expressed over where the company chose to locate the new road, and how it intersected with an existing road.”That was a miscommunication problem, and my fault as much as any,” Nesbitt said.And Barrett has worked to resolve his concerns, he said.Last week, Nesbitt walked with his wife, Barrett representative Dan Sullivan and engineer Doug Weaver of Mike Brady Construction between the well pad and the Nesbitts’ pond. Barrett plans to build a road to the pond for a water source, and Sullivan and Weaver were seeking out the Nesbitts’ input about where to locate it.”I don’t want to take out either of these two trees,” Weaver said as he pointed to two junipers.Nesbitt told Weaver to take them out if needed, adding that he has come to have full confidence in Weaver to do what’s best. Meanwhile, Sullivan was talking about building a similar relationship of trust and even friendship with a nearby property owner where Barrett is drilling. He said he believes these are examples of industry and residents working together to allow for drilling while preserving quality of life in places such as Dry Hollow.”Have we done our job so bad? A lot of people still like it here,” he said.Sometimes, it’s Sullivan’s job to at least educate people about drilling’s impacts, even when he can’t mitigate them. As he approached the pond, he warned Jackie Nesbitt about headlights from trucks picking up water. He knows she’s concerned about lights associated with drilling being visible from her home. She seemed to appreciate his consideration.”Hopefully we’re up high enough it won’t be too much” of a nuisance, she said.By and large, the pond arrangement is working out well for both the Nesbitts and Barrett. The company asked him if he would sell pond water, and he was initially reluctant. But then he realized he would get an all-weather road to the pond, and could use proceeds from the water sales to dredge out the pond.”So it becomes a win-win situation,” he said.Back at the well pad, Sullivan saw another benefit. Hacking and McNeill are working good-paying industrial jobs. Hacking said he earns about $250 a day. Sullivan needled the pair, noting that Barrett is producing “homegrown” gas in Colorado but is forced to rely on help from out of state.”We’ve got to train up more people here in Colorado and let these boys go home to Utah,” Sullivan said.It’s good work, Hacking said. He has labored on a regular drilling crew before and finds his current job easier. He and McNeill work for Pete Martin Drilling Inc. and do minor drilling to prepare well pads for the natural gas rigs. They use a truck-mounted drill to bore the initial 40-foot holes, 15 feet apart, for four wells that will be drilled directionally from the one pad. Each hole is first fitted with a metal “conductor” pipe, and later, surface casing will be inserted about 1,000 feet deep, primarily to protect the aquifer.Hacking and McNeill also drill a “rat hole” and “mouse hole” by each well. These serve as a staging area during drilling. A “kelly,” a square, 40-foot length of steel that turns the pipe that does the drilling, can be placed in the rat hole when it’s not in use. The mouse hole can hold one of the 30-foot lengths of drilling pipe that must be assembled to reach thousands of feet down the well.Off to the side of the well pad is a reserve pit, about 60 feet wide, 200 feet long and 10 feet deep. Surrounding it is a berm that both helps contain noise during drilling, and stores topsoil that will be placed back on the pad during reclamation. The pit will hold water and cuttings from drilling. Through the help of a berm that divides the pit and acts as a separator, some of the water will be able to reused as drilling proceeds.The pit isn’t lined. Weaver said its contents aren’t toxic. A clay gel used in drilling, bentonite, goes into the pit, and also helps to seal it. Besides, this pit goes down to bedrock. As a result, digging it out required some blasting – which caught Nesbitts’ neighbors off guard.Nesbitt said Sullivan apologized and said Barrett should have notified the neighbors. But Nesbitt feels bad because Weaver had forewarned him of the blasting earlier in the day that it occurred, and Nesbitt had promised to alert neighbors but forgot to do so. The blasting turned out to be worse than Nesbitt had expected.”It was noise. It was a great big plume of dust all over the place,” Nesbitt said.It also was a clarion call. It wasn’t enough to permanently scare away the deer and elk, but for the Nesbitts’ human neighbors it was one of the first big signs of the drilling that is to come on the well pad. The large rig that will drill for natural gas is scheduled to arrive this week.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.com


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