by Clint Boehler
HUERFANO — On Thursday, August 23, Shell Oil Corporation hosted an informational forum at the Walsenburg Community Center. Approximately 45 Huerfano County citizens attended.
This was one of seven forum presentations since December 2011. The objective of the forums is to provide systematic answers to questions about the risks of proposed drilling operations in Huerfano County.
Shell Oil Project Manager Philippe Heer provided an overview of the drilling program and the drilling process. Heer emphasized that Shell is exploring for oil, and an oil well is not the same in scope and design as a gas well. They are as unlike as apples and oranges. However, he suggested that controversy stemming from recent gas exploration has tainted the drilling industry.
Heer pointed out that in the last 50 years, 80 oil wells have been platted and drilled by various companies in Huerfano County. Some of the wells went down to 7,000 feet, and none have had any safety or environmental issues.
Heer said Shell has permits for four wells. The Freeman Well 3-24 will be Shell’s first exploratory well, and it would be a bonus if it could also be a producer.
The Freeman 3-24 is to be located near the intersection of County Road 520 (Yellowstone Road) and County Road 530. Well depth could go to 7500 feet and then horizontal as needed. Preparations will take about 60 days, drilling about 40 days, and production and testing will take up to 90 days. If the well is producing, it will be operated, and if not, it will be capped and removed.
At this point, Heer introduced a slide show explaining how the well would be installed and operated. He emphasized that the drill hole would protect against leakages and the style does not disrupt the substructure as with gas exploration.
He explained how the hydrocarbon would be extracted, stored and transported with emphasis on safety to the environment and residents. Waste material will be transported to one of several waste management sites capable of handling it. None are in Huerfano County.
The project meets the regulatory guidelines of numerous agencies, which is no small feat in itself. A minimum of nine state, county and federal agencies have guidelines that Shell must follow for approval. The Huerfano County requirements top the list.
A question was asked about construction contractors to be used on the project. Heer introduced the Shell construction team leader who explained that as much local labor and equipment as possible would be utilized on road, pad, and site construction. He pointed out that much of the preparation work is highly specialized and the company has contractors with equipment that is not available locally.
He was asked about using local labor on the well site and he responded that previously trained workers would be utilized, but contrary to rumors, they would not be bused in daily from Pueblo. Rather, the crews would come with their own portable housing and would utilize local Walsenburg campgrounds and other facilities.
They would also supply from local sources for food, gas, and other necessities. The seismic operation that ended in April spent one million dollars in Huerfano County. Shell expects the construction phase to also infuse considerable funds into the community.
The strongest objection to construction was to increased traffic on CR 520. Trucks transporting large equipment will be on the road, but Shell expects to modfiy the CR 520 roadway and improve the grades and make other modifications to mitigate the traffic increase.
Environmental and personnel safety concerns were voiced. Shell safety manager Chris Mack said that Shell has an Emergency Reponse Management System covering a dozen risk categories. It requires everyone on site to be trained in emergency preparedness and to have specialized training in the NIMS (National Incident Management System) training system that outlines duties of personnel involved in an emergency situation and details setting up an Incident Command Post. Violation of any one of the Shell risks results in the employee being walked off the premises.
Mack said that each Shell well site has a paramedic on staff, and he pointed out that to date Shell has not had any injuries. All safety and emergency issues are coordinated with Huerfano County fire and emergency agencies. Well sites will not be not storing hazardous materials. Shell lists diesel, hydraulic fluid, motor oil, drilling mud and water and clay as their Hazmat.
Heer introduced Katelyn Roberts, the Shell Oil Community Relations Liaison. She pointed out that Shell wants to be a community partner and to share in community benefit projects. She said that groups seeking support assistance from Shell should contact her with their request. The focus areas of support are Community/Lifestyle, Education and Environment. There will be an online submission for requests available beginning in 2013. For any questions or information on Shell Oil’s operations in Huerfano County, Katelyn Roberts should be contacted at 281-851-6049.
At the conclusion of the forum, members of the audience were asked if they understood the technicalities of the drilling process and the effects. At least half said they fully understood and others said they were satisfied they understood the key points. Forum members Peter O’Brien, Mickey D’Ambrosia and a woman who preferred to be anonymous, said they felt Shell was trying to be up front and honest. Honesty seemed to be the prevailing conclusion. The next forum will be announced at a later time for this coming October.