Last major producer in Piceance Basin has nine drilling rigs operating |

Last major producer in Piceance Basin has nine drilling rigs operating

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
A steady stream of pipe is fed to a WPX Energy drill rig north of Parachute. WPX is the only major producer currently operating in the Piceance Basin, which includes western Garfield County.
Aubree Dallas/The Aspen Times |

Overall drilling activity has dropped significantly in the Piceance Basin of western Colorado in the past few years, leaving WPX Energy as the last major producer still active in Garfield County.

The company has nine drill rigs working the Piceance Basin, according to Community Relations representative Jeff Kirtland. That is up from seven rigs last year but down from 25 during the peak period of 2005-07, according to company representatives.

WPX Energy is the largest natural-gas producer in Colorado, Kirtland said, and the largest leaseholder in the Piceance Basin. The company’s investment in the Piceance Basin exceeds $500 million, according to Kirtland. WPX was previously a wholly owned subsidiary of Williams.

The company has drilled 290 wells so far this year at an average cost of $1 million per well, Kirtland said.

Kent Hejl, district completions manager for WPX Energy, said the comparisons of drilling activity over different eras is deceptive. Oil and gas companies weren’t able to do as much directional drilling during the peak years of the past decade, so they utilized a lot more drilling rigs.

With directional drilling, a company can use one pad to drill numerous wells in different directions. It’s has less of an impact on the surface land and is more efficient for the operator.

“The question always is, ‘How do you get a pipe to bend?’” said Kirtland, who gives multiple tours of WPX Energy’s operations each year to business groups, journalists and elected officials. The pipes bend by using an elbow that veers drilling off in a specified direction. The elbow is used about 1,400 feet down, then drilling continues horizontally to targeted hydrocarbons or it takes on an “S” shape and goes straight down again. Despite drilling more than one mile underground, operators come within 50 feet of a target, Kirtland said.

In the Mesa Verde rock formation in mountainous areas, drilling might go as deep as 8,500 feet, Kirtland said. In the Colorado River Valley floor, typical wells are 4,500 to 5,500 feet deep, he said.

WPX and other companies are starting to tap the deeper Niobrara Shale formation, which requires wells to be drilled at least 10,000 feet.

In the best-case scenario, it takes an hour to drill 150 feet, Kirtland said. Many of the rock formations are so compact and tight that drilling requires a longer time.

WPX Energy has drilled roughly 4,400 wells in the Piceance Basin, mostly west of Rifle and east of the Mesa County-Garfield County boundary, and from Roan Plateau on the north to south of Interstate 70.

Drilling and completion of wells takes about four months, Kirtland said. Preparing the pad before drilling starts takes up to six weeks.

“These wells will probably produce for 30 years or more,” Kirtland said. Once they stop producing, the infrastructure at the surface is removed, and the well is plugged and abandoned. State regulations dictate the procedure, which includes filling the well with cement, cutting it off below the surface, backfilling and marking the location, Kirtland said.


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