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Fracking begins

Posted: Friday, Apr 12th, 2013

Courier staff writer

DEL NORTE — Rio Grande County (RGC) is waiting to see what happens when First Liberty Energy (FLE) conducts its first fracking five miles northwest of Del Norte.

Late last week, FLE notified the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) it intends to start fracking, the process of creating small cracks or fractures in underground geological formations to allow oil or natural gas to flow into the well bore, on or after Thursday, April 11. In January, FLE told the Rio Grande County Commissioners (RGCC) it would not frack. Since learning of the sudden turn in extraction methods, the RGCC are working to educate themselves about the process and its potential outcomes, especially in regards to the aquifer, which is under the COGCC’s dominion.

“RGCC did due diligence on the drilling application and went to the extra measure of getting a Hydrogeologic Study completed,” according to an April 11 RGC press release. “Based on information from this study they were able to get the driller to comply with more stringent guidelines than in the original proposal... the county only has jurisdiction over above-ground issues and the State of Colorado has jurisdiction over ‘down hole’ or below ground where the fracking will occur.”

Last month, FLE fully complied with RGC’s special use conditions, casing to 4,800 feet, 200 feet below the Conejos Formation base, and drilling beyond to approximately 9,250 feet to protect the aquifer from pollution.

COGCC will inspect that area and equipment prior to the fracking, according to the press release. The fracking might start today, but Basic Energy Services, a Fort Morgan-based company, will most likely begin tomorrow, Saturday, April 13.

The fracking will be a vertical process as opposed to horizontal fracking, which is a newer technology, according to the press release. FLE will focus on the “pay zones,” the area where oil, gas and hydrocarbon are trapped under a cap rock. At the Del Norte location, the cap rock is shale combined with a sandy like substance stemming from volcanic intrusion. COGCC will not reveal the depth of the anticipated frack zone because FLE requested confidentiality for six months, which COGCC permits in its 308. C rule. The rule’s intent is to provide competitive market advantage for companies making the financial risk to drill a wildcat well.

The RGCC anticipate the process will take one to one and one-half days to complete utilizing a small rig and it will produce some noise, according to the press release. The bulk of the equipment will be on location for one day with frack flow back tanks remaining. A service unit or work over rig similar to, but smaller than the one used in drilling the well will also likely remain for swabbing purposes to remove the hydrostatic head and permit fluid flow into the well.

Swabbing is a means to mechanically lift liquids from the well using a rubber cup and weight attached to a steel cable that is lowered into and out of the well repeatedly via an engine powered drum or spool, according to the press release. The rig is later used to run production tubing into the well, and if reservoir pressure is insufficient, to maintain well flow. The rig will be used to install a rod pump, which commonly seen gas powered grasshopper pump jacks operate.

There is more than 5,000 vertical feet between the pay zone and the fresh water zones in use, and adequate cement and steel casing is in place to protect the Conejos formation, according to the press release.

The majority of the products that will most likely be used in the process include sand, water, nitrogen or foam, and potassium chloride, according to the press release. Chemicals used will be posted on the COGCC’s FracFocus website after completion of the process per COGCC guidelines.

FLE initially purchased one acre-foot or 326,000 gallons of water from the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District, according to the press release. The district recently agrees to sell the energy firm an additional 0.257 acre-feet or 84,000 gallons of water.

No innate or in situ water was produced or observed when the well was drilled, according to the COGCC. The drilling mud column exerted sufficient pressure to maintain zonal fluid isolation and prevented fluid flow into the well bore. If any water was present, the volume present was too small to detect.

The fracking fluids will be disposed of outside of the Valley, according to the press release.

“Clear water is usually disposed of by injecting it into an EPA exempted deep formation through a Class II state permitted salt water disposal well,” the press release stated. “There aren’t any in Rio Grande County... It will likely go to a commercial facility called Aquamoss in Bloomington, New Mexico permitted by the NMOCD (New Mexico Oil Conservation District). The operator (FLE) is in the process of making that determination.”

The solid sand waste will also travel south to a permitted offsite commercial processing and/or disposal facility “mostly” in Bloomington, N.M., according to the press release. Nitrogen gas will be mixed with the frack water to better facilitate frack water flow back. The nitrogen and any possible natural gas present will be vented to the atmosphere while testing the commercial viability of the well.

“We need to make sure that when people are applying for oil and gas permits that this (fracking) doesn’t happen again,” said San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council Director Chris Canaly in a phone interview Thursday night. “Rio Grande County can’t let it.”

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