From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 3, Number 52 - March 25, 2004
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Questar proposal supported

by Cat Urbigkit

The possibility of allowing Questar to drill year-round on the Pinedale Mesa was the subject of a private meeting in Pinedale last Wednesday afternoon, with Governor Dave Freudenthal, Sublette County Commissioner Bill Cramer and Pinedale Mayor Rose Skinner in attendance, as well as state and federal agency representatives.

Both Skinner and Cramer expressed support for Questar's multiple-well directional-drilling program, but Freudenthal said he would reserve judgment until he had the opportunity to hear from Wyoming Game and Fish Department Director Terry Cleveland, who had toured the Mesa the day prior.

Freudenthal did tell Questar Market Resources President and CEO Chuck Stanley: "It has some attraction ... I don't rule out supporting it."

Questar holds 14,000 acres of leases on the Mesa, with about 8,600 acres of that amount productive for natural gas. Because all of the acreage is within an area classified as crucial mule deer winter range on Bureau of Land Management-administered lands, Questar's drilling window falls between May 1 and Nov. 15.

Questar has developed a proposal in which it would only need nine additional locations to develop its gas leases. The company would continue to use directional drilling to develop up to 16 wells from each well pad, reducing the area of disturbance from 16 five-acre well pads to one 12-acre pad.

But with directional wells costing about $500,000 more to drill than a conventional well, to justify the added expense, the company needs to drill without seasonal interruptions, Questar officials said. Drilling and completion on multiple-well pads isn't feasible within such a short seasonal window.

As part of a study to examine the effects of winter drilling on deer populations, the last two winters Questar has been allowed to continue drilling on a multiple-well pad.

Questar now proposes to develop three winter drilling pads (using one existing pad and two additional pads). Each pad would have two drilling rigs working at the same time. This increase in directional drilling would minimize the number of well pads used to develop Questar's leases, but would require year-round drilling. The company would be able to use central production facilities and is considering sinking $25 million into building pipelines to move liquids off the Mesa, eliminating the need for tanks and trucks. The company would bus its workers to work sites, as well as haul in supplies in bulk, greatly reducing the amount of traffic associated with drilling and completion activities.

Questar would also continue to provide financial support for the five-year mule deer study, as well as explore opportunities for other habitat mitigation or improvements.

The company has already developed 76 wells on its leases, and anticipates another 250-430 bottom hole locations, with 20-acre downspacing likely.

Benefits from year-round drilling are numerous, according to Questar's Ron Hogan, general manager of the company's Pinedale division. One of the biggest benefits is stability for the community, rather than contributing to the cyclic employment associated with winter shutdowns.

Pinedale Mayor Rose Skinner said year-round drilling could translate into workers moving to Pinedale with their families, providing more stable employment, fewer law-enforcement conflicts and stable school enrollments. She also noted that seasonal drilling has a big impact on local motel occupancy and restaurant business, which could be alleviated with year-round drilling.

"The economy is good as long as development is occurring," Skinner said.

Cramer voiced his support for Questar's proposal, stating: "I like the aspect of stability ... I am an enthusiastic supporter."

Freudenthal responded to the Questar presentation with: "It's better than anything I've seen so far, and I appreciate that ... I don't rule out supporting it."

Freudenthal said he needs to confer with others on the proposal.

"Let me see what they come back with," Freudenthal said, indicating he'd try to respond within three weeks to the proposal.

The governor said he understood that the proposal would reduce surface damage at the outset of development, while minimizing the duration of drilling.

Questar officials noted that their proposal is custom-built for the company's lease, not a generic how-to for use in all areas. Freudenthal agreed that the proposal is very site-specific.

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