by Clint Boehler
HUERFANO — Shell Project Manager Philippe Heer gave a detailed update on the status of the Freeman 3-24 Well to a standing-room-only crowd at the tenth public forum held Thursday night at the Walsenburg Community Center. Approximately 100 interested persons were in attendance to listen to Heer’s summary. Heer called this meeting the Goals and Futures working meeting.
Heer reviewed the goals accomplished with the Freeman well. The well was drilled to 6,300 feet vertically into the Niobrara shale formation. Then a 5,000 foot horizontal drill to the southeast was successfully executed. Both operations were completed without accident or incident.
Heer noted that while 41 days were budgeted for the actual drilling, it was completed to depth in 33 days. During this time, all goals were met with no injuries, delays or problems. The well received five satisfactory inspections from Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) which is more than average because this is a high profile well.
A core, from the Niobrara shale formation was extracted and initial studies of the core indicate oil and gas is present in the shale. Heer stated that they had found a “working hydrocarbon system.” He said the rock is “mature” with high organic content. He also said it will take at least a year to complete studies of the core.
During this phase of the operation, approximately 4,000 feet of perforated pipe was inserted into the horizontal bore with the hope that the oil would seep out of the shale and flow voluntarily to the surface. A well clean-up operation known as a “swabbing operation” was carried out to induce the hydrocarbons to start flowing but with no luck. The rock is “tight,” and though there are fractures in the shale, they are cemented with calcite.
From this point in time on, Shell geologists and engineers will pore over thousands of feet of core and other samples to determine what future plans will be implemented. According to Heer, the process of hydrofracking may have to be used to fracture the shale and release the hydrocarbons. Heer indicated that next steps include attempting to pull the perforated pipe from the lateral drill and continued study of the core. He could not predict, at this time, if this well or this lateral would be fracked.
Keli Kringel, a member of Citizens for Huerfano County, immediately called Heer on the fracking issue, saying that her records showed that Heer is quoted as saying fracking would not be done in the Freeman well. However, Heer responded by saying fracking was not a consideration in the initial program, but since the Freeman well did not get any flow at all, fracking may be the only alternative. While previously it was not a likelihood, the geology now suggests it could be used.
Fracking is a method of initiating oil flow from tight formations and is used frequently in extraction from oil shale rather than for oil claimed from large pools. Heer noted that fracking, the use of high pressure water mixed with chemicals to break open fissures and allow oil to flow out, is not the same as it was years ago and does not have the same risks. He emphasized that fracking was currently only an option, not a plan, and the community would certainly be notified if it came to that. Shell Oil is now in a period of study and research, which could take as long as two years.
The drilling rig at the Freeman Well has been moved out. A visitor to the Freeman well at this time would see a pad with one valve system. This multiple valve attached to the top of the well casing is called a “Christmas Tree” in oil field vernacular.
Heer also spoke about personnal changes. COGCC has appointed Gardner resident Dale Lyons as Local Government Designee (LGD). The LGD receives notifications from COGCC concerning oil and gas exploration in the county and is responsible for notifying the wider community. Notifications include 48-hour reporting of changes to permitted drilling operations, such as fracking.
This completes the work in Huerfano County for Philippe Heer. In attendance at this meeting was Richard Newsom who will take over from Heer. He is the General Manager for all Shell Oil operations in the Rocky Mountains. Heer is being transferred out of this project to be in charge of three projects headquartered out of Bogota, Colombia. Heer and his family will be relocating there shortly. A geologist named David Egan has also been assigned to the site.
Ineke Schwartz is retiring from Shell Oil to pursue private interests. Katelyn Roberts, who has been the Information Liaison, will remain in that position, with additional duties assumed from the departing Schwartz. Roberts can be reached at the Shell office in Walsenburg at 281-851-6049 or by emailing Katelyn.Roberts@Shell.com.
Roberts reported that during the past 36 months, Shell has spent 1.7 million dollars in the county, of which 37 percent went to lodging and 30 percent to local vendors. The remainder was support needs and spent in the county as well.
For the future, studies will determine what actions will be taken in Huerfano County. Shell has at least three additional permits and may exercise any one or all of those in their research. Only time will tell, but the county will be kept informed at quarterly meetings. The next meeting is tentatively scheduled at the Gardner Community Center at 5:30 pm on May 16, 2013.