Is there oil in that Mancos Shale? That’s what Swift Energy is hoping to find, and it is getting closer to exploring the possibility.
On Thursday evening, representatives from the company met in Hesperus with community members, firefighters and board members of the Fort Lewis Mesa Fire Protection District and La Plata County staff to discuss its plans and what the area can expect in the next few months.
“It really is true that history repeats itself,” said Butch Knowlton, director of La Plata County’s Office of Emergency Preparedness. “In the late ’80s, we kept hearing about all this gas drilling that was coming, and frankly, we were a little panicked. It was something new for us, and we had to learn real quickly.”
The new potential energy boom taking place in the southeast part of the county, drilling horizontally into Mancos Shale, is inducing a little fear, as well, he said.
Red Willow Production Co., the Southern Ute Tribe’s natural-gas and oil arm, drilled an exploratory well in the area in December 2012 that has not yet gone into production. Swift Energy is finishing final touches on applications to drill its own horizontal wells in the Niobrara section of Mancos Shale on 75,000 acres it has leased.
The first is called the Waters well site, and it is about three miles slightly northwest of Kline. The second is the Kikel Ranch well site, about 3.5 miles southeast of Breen.
The timing of the drilling at Kikel Ranch has not been determined, but Swift hopes to start construction of the Waters well by mid-July and start drilling in early to mid-August.
The area can anticipate increased traffic for two or three months, corporate manager Bob Redweik said, but Swift is contracting with the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office for additional patrolling by off-duty deputies.
Two pieces of news were agreeable surprises.
Andy Rhoads, drilling project manager, said this horizontal well will be much shallower than others he has drilled around the world.
Those are usually 17,000 to 20,000 feet long. The layer of Mancos Shale that Swift wants to tap is down about 2,500 to 3,000 feet vertically and another 4,000 feet horizontally.
“This is located to achieve the optimum well,” Redweik said. “We’re hoping mostly for crude oil, maybe a little natural gas and very little produced water. We don’t anticipate any hydrogen sulfide.”
Mae and George Worley, the closest neighbors to the Kikel Ranch site, said they had heard hydrogen sulfide, which can be deadly in even small doses if inhaled, doesn’t show up until about 9,000 feet down in that area, if it’s there at all.
The other surprise was that, at this time, the company doesn’t anticipate doing any hydraulic fracking at the well. Fracking is injecting chemicals and water into the shale bed to free the oil for extraction.
“We’re now planning to do this with no fracking stimulation,” Redweik said. “Our geologists think there are sufficient natural fractures so we might be able to do this without it.”
Swift gave the Fort Lewis Mesa Fire Protection District a check for $5,000 for equipment repairs.
Because fire danger is so high right now, and because Swift is planning to flare, or burn off, any natural gas that is found in the exploratory stage of the drilling as it is not expecting to find much, Swift is planning to have a water truck standing by.
Firefighters checked out the emergency response routes Swift has determined, getting a bird’s-eye view using Google maps.
“There are a lot of issues I deal with on a regular basis,” Knowlton said, “that concern me more than this whole industry.”