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Williams touts benefits of cluster drilling

Dennis WebbGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Williams Production RMT hopes Garfield County will be a help rather than a hindrance as the company pursues a new cluster drilling concept aimed at cutting both costs and impacts.Officials with Williams told county commissioners Monday the approach may represent the first land-based application of methods already in use in off-shore drilling. The company is about a year into what began as an experiment to carry out drilling in a way that gets it in and out of an area quickly and reduces associated truck traffic and other environmental impacts.”Now it’s kind of a goal of ours to try to maximize the amount of this type of practice,” said Dave Cesark, Williams’ environmental and regulatory affairs lead in Parachute.”What we’re hoping is this type of best practice behavior be recognized and incentivized” by the county, Cesark said.He said the approach should be encouraged rather than companies getting bogged down in permitting processes.Robert Vincent, district production engineer for Williams, said the approach involves a number of practices, all of which must be implemented together to make the strategy work. Among them are:• directionally drilling as many as 22 wells from one pad, using drilling rigs that can be slid on rails from well to well in as little as a half-hour.• further speeding things up by using two rigs simultaneously on one pad, even while putting wells into production on the same pad. Doing so has the added benefit of forcing Williams to eliminate gas flaring and venting.• using remote pumps and temporary, above-ground pipes to hydraulically fracture wells from as far as two miles away, using recycled water that is produced in the drilling process. In areas where Williams has done this, it has eliminated the need for tens of thousands of trips by trucks hauling water, and has made fracturing crews more efficient because they don’t have to wait for water deliveries.”Even though we’re in the natural gas business, the name of the game is water management,” Vincent said. “If we’re not managing our water right we’re going to be in trouble.”Williams is able to drill directionally underground a half-mile away from a well pad. It’s able to use as few as four pads per square mile, cutting surface disturbance by well pads by 70 percent, the company estimates. And doing remote fracturing reduces how large each pad needs to be.Williams officials said cluster drilling quickly has become routine in some areas it operates locally, but it can’t be used everywhere. It doesn’t make financial sense where exploratory drilling is occurring, and it’s unclear how much gas will be produced. A key part of the approach is understanding the underlying gas reservoir well enough to be assured the extra investments that cluster drilling requires will pay off through increased efficiencies.”This is actually not for the faint of heart because there is a lot of money going in up front, even before the first well,” Vincent said.County Commissioner Larry McCown said that could mean the approach isn’t feasible for smaller energy companies. Williams is the largest gas producer in the county.Cesark said Williams is in something of a unique situation, having been operating in the county for more than 20 years, and having a huge infrastructure in place.”We think this is a good thing, but it may not be something that all operators can do to the extent that Williams can,” he said.Still, county building and planning director Fred Jarman encouraged the company to share its ideas with other companies.”It’s an issue of trying to set the bar and see where this goes,” Jarman said.In an interview following Monday’s presentation, Cesark said one concern for Williams is that new land use code regulations that county commissioners soon will consider adopting could result in a more arduous regulatory process for cluster drilling efforts.The county Planning Commission has sought to adjust certain aspects of the code to more clearly define certain uses related to energy production, such as pipelines and well sites, and to clarify what level of county review proposals for such uses would receive.Contact Dennis Webb: 384-9119dwebb@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO


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