North Fork drilling plans remain small

Gunnison Energy envisions 60 wells over five-year period

An oil and gas company says it isn’t expecting to drill 400 wells in the upper North Fork Valley, at least not any time soon.

Gunnison Energy President Brad Robinson said the company is “thinking about a more modest plan” for perhaps the next four or five years, probably involving more like 60 wells. And that would occur only if natural gas prices recover from their current low levels, he said.

Gunnison Energy’s plans are drawing attention in tandem with other drilling being considered in the same area, including a 146-well proposal by SG Interests. Dozens of people raised concerns about SG’s proposal in a meeting in Paonia last week, where the possibility of Gunnison Energy drilling 400 wells was mentioned as well.

Robinson said in an interview that the 400-well number may have come up in conversations with county commissioners a while back, but it was a reference to how many might be drilled over a longer period of time, like decades. It’s a highly speculative forecast that was part of a range of estimates of long-term development that the company had shared with the Bureau of Land Management, he said.

The company’s plans are focused on acreage in northwest Gunnison and northeast Delta counties, north of Somerset, and mainly west of the Bull Mountain area where SG’s drilling is planned.

Robinson said Gunnison hasn’t submitted any drilling proposals to any agencies yet and is still working on them. The company is having to take into account factors such as gas prices and the results of what drilling it is doing. It plans to drill one well in the area this year.

He said it’s hard to speculate on the number of wells it will drill over the long term. Gas prices, well productivity and changes in technology all come into play.

“When we started we didn’t even know there was shale gas out there,” he said.

Now the company is drilling long horizontal wells to develop gas in shale formations.

Robinson said the focus shouldn’t be on the number of wells, because Gunnison Energy will use multiwell pads to reduce impacts. That could result in about five new pads for its short-term drilling project, and he envisions eventually drilling as many as 50 wells from a pad.

Jim Ramey, executive director of Citizens for a Healthy Community, has been concerned about the possible cumulative impacts of local drilling plans by companies including Gunnison Energy and SG Interests. He said even if Gunnison Energy is planning 60 wells now and a few hundred later, “it’s still a very serious concern for the community.”

Even if located on the same pad, wells still would result in air pollution and would require a large amount of water, he said. Gunnison Energy used 9.5 million gallons to hydraulically fracture one well, Ramey said.

As for the prospects of 50 wells being located on one pad, “who wants to go hiking next to a mega-industrial drilling operation in the national forest?” Ramey asked.


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