Simultaneous fracking proves cost-effective

Ursa Resources Group II plans to continue its one-rig drilling program in Garfield County this year and, depending on natural gas prices, could bring in an additional rig next year, the company says.

Don Simpson, Ursa’s vice president for business development, said one reason the company has been able to drill cost-effectively even under today’s prices is because it hydraulically fractures adjacent wells simultaneously. This increases well productivity.

Ursa also plans to seek a state permit to drill a Niobrara shale formation well in the Battlement Mesa area, following WPX Energy’s success in drilling highly productive but also expensive exploratory wells into the Niobrara formation in that area.

In addition, Simpson indicates that Ursa expects to eventually pursue drilling within the Battlement Mesa planned unit development itself.

The prospect of drilling there has raised concerns among some residents, dating to when it was first proposed by Antero Resources, which subsequently sold its assets in western Colorado’s Piceance Basin to Ursa.

Ursa recently provided community updates in Silt and Battlement Mesa on its local drilling, which is focused on areas outside those two communities.

WPX has been doing most of the recent drilling in the Piceance Basin after companies including Encana suspended their programs because of continuing soft gas prices.

Simpson said one factor contributing to the economics of Ursa’s drilling has been the simultaneous fracking.

He said if adjacent wells are fracked one at a time, it can simply push the sand and water used in fracking from one well into the fractures of the other well, actually making it a worse well.

“But if you do them (both) at once it opens everything up,” enhancing the amount of rock that cracks open and produces gas from the high-pressure process.

Ursa also is intrigued by the potential of horizontal drilling in the Niobrara shale, which is deeper than the Mesaverde sandstone that mostly has been targeted for drilling in the Piceance. But Simpson said Ursa won’t drill a Niobrara well this year.

He said WPX has got “some really good” Niobrara wells, but he added, “the wells are very expensive.” The process involves drilling down, then out horizontally into the shale formation.

He said Ursa has done horizontal drilling in North Dakota and Montana, but the process is different locally and the costs will have to come down and natural gas prices will need to come up to make such a drilling program successful.

Costs will decrease as the local Niobrara drilling and completion methods improve, he said.

“If prices get up a little bit and you start drilling more and costs come down a little bit, it can be a huge boon for this economy and the Western Slope. There’s a lot of work to be done on it but it’s possible.”

As for drilling within Battlement Mesa, Simpson said that while Ursa is trying to stay outside the community for now, it’s already the case that it could drill inside from a location farther from homes than an alternative location outside. That’s because that development never was fully built out.

Ursa has been incorporating measures including using a sound wall to reduce the impacts to nearby homes from some of its drilling near Silt and Battlement Mesa.

Dave Devanney, with the group Battlement Concerned Citizens, said that while Ursa has taken some commendable steps to address impacts, he doesn’t want to see drilling in the Battlement Mesa planned unit development.

Such drilling would require a special-use permit through Garfield County, and he hopes county commissioners would consider recommendations of a recent health impact assessment to reduce impacts.

Ursa also has drilled a wastewater injection well in the Battlement Mesa area, which Devanney fears could contaminate groundwater, or cause earthquakes as seismologists say has occurred with some injection wells.

Simpson said the well goes through a rigorous approval process and won’t be put into use until this summer because of tests required by the state.


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