Application for exploratory drilling in Thompson Divide provides glimpse of traffic generated

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

Two exploratory wells that an oil and gas company wants to drill in Pitkin County would generate about 1,034 round trips of trucks into the heart of Thompson Divide, according to an application submitted to the U.S. Forest Service.

SG Interests’ Nov. 13 application to the White River National Forest and the Bureau of Land Management provides a new, higher level of detail than previously available on the possible impacts from drilling the test wells. The company wants to drill about five miles south of Sunlight Mountain Resort and 10 miles southwest of Carbondale.

Houston-based SG Interests estimated in its application that improvements to forest roads and reconstruction of an abandoned well pad would generate about 222 round trips by vehicles hauling heavy equipment, crews, supplies and water.

Drilling and completion of the two test wells would add as many as an estimated 812 round trips, depending on whether the results of the first test well warranted drilling a second. Most of the trips during drilling and completion of the wells would involve bringing fresh water to the site and hauling out wastewater, the application said.

“Using 80 barrel-water trucks, approximately 548 round trips are needed to deliver the completion water to location.”
SG Interests

White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said SG Interests isn’t seeking to do anything unusual.

“It’s pretty standard to see what’s down there” before committing greater resources, he said.

A gas well costs millions of dollars to drill and complete, Fitzwilliams said. SG Interests wants to drill one, and possibly two, gas wells to assess the potential for production from the rock formations in Thompson Divide before it either abandons the area or commits to field production.

Review will be delayedThe gas company previously submitted an application to the Bureau of Land Management and the state of Colorado for the exploratory natural-gas well in Pitkin County, known as 8-89-31. The well is within the Lake Ridge Unit of leases held by SG Interests. Those leases are in the middle of Thompson Divide, rugged land that stretches from Sunlight ski area to McClure Pass, west of Highway 133. Conservation groups headed by the Carbondale-based Thompson Divide Coalition are fighting to prevent further leasing of federal land for gas exploration as well as to prevent drilling on existing leases.

Zane Kessler, executive director of the coalition, said he needed time to study SG Interests’ application to the Forest Service before commenting.

Fitzwilliams said the application to the Forest Service is the next step in the process a gas company must follow to drill on federal land it leases. This step requires the company to provide federal agencies with greater details of its plan.

The Forest Service will not begin a review under the National Environmental Policy Act quite yet. Fitzwilliams said there is a dispute over the disposition of some of SG Interests’ leases in Thompson Divide. Conservation groups and Pitkin County are challenging the BLM’s sale of the leases to the federal lands. They claim that the BLM didn’t undertake a thorough environmental review before offering the leases in the early 2000s and that the availability of the leases violated roadless rules on federal lands.

Fitzwilliams said he explained to representatives of SG Interests that the review wouldn’t begin until the lease issue is resolved.

Impacts felt in Garfield CountyWhile drilling in Thompson Divide remains months, if not years, away, observers now can gauge what exploration and possibly production would mean in terms of traffic generation.

The wells are located in the northwest corner of Pitkin County, but Glenwood Springs and Garfield County would bear the brunt of the traffic.

Access to the well sites would be from Four Mile Road in Glenwood Springs. Trucks and pickups would drive eight miles up Four Mile Road, then turn onto Forest Road 300 near the base of Sunlight Mountain Resort and follow the road for 12 miles before turning northeasterly on Forest Road 300.4K for 4.2 miles.

The route would take heavy truck traffic past numerous residential subdivisions on Four Mile Road and also mix with drivers headed to the national forest for recreation.

The proposed test well site is located east of the old Wolf Creek gas field, which is now used by SourceGas to inject natural gas into old wells to store it for future use.

Fracking required for test wellsSG Interests would use an abandoned well pad for its two test wells, according to its application. The first step would be hauling a trackhoe, bulldozer, blade and haul truck to the site in four tractor-trailer loads for work on Forest Road 300.4K and the well pad.

Five dump trucks would haul in an estimated 100 loads of road base over seven days for road improvements.

It would take an additional five days to reconstruct the well pad along with another 64 loads of road base that would be hauled to the site. Water trucks hauling 80 barrels each would make 12 round trips to the site ,and there would be four round trips by fuel and service trucks during construction of the pad, the application said.

The crews performing the work would make roughly 42 round trips in pickups over a 12- to 14-day period.

An Aspen Times analysis of SG Interests’ application showed that work on the road and drill pad would result in about 222 round trips by vehicles.

The following drilling operation would require the process known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” of rock formations, according to the application.

A drill rig would be operating on location for approximately 35 days during the drilling of the initial shale gas well, the application said. Completion of the first well would require another 14 days.

A second well is contemplated from the same pad. It would take 20 days to drill and 14 days to complete.

“Following the testing and analysis of the wells in this exploratory project, SG Interests would contact the BLM about plans to either plug and abandon the wells (including final reclamation) or to initiate further environmental studies required to produce the wells,” the company’s application said.

Intensive water useThe drilling process would generate more intensive truck traffic. There would be two round trips for the drilling rig, 65 trips for the crews and four for fuel and service, the application estimated. SG Interests said another 45 round trips would be generated by “rigup” trucks for a use that wasn’t defined.

Fresh water would be trucked into the site. That would require about 38 trucks hauling 80 barrels each for the drilling process. “Using 80 BBL water trucks, approximately 548 round trips are needed to deliver the completion water to location,” the application said, noting that the full amount of testing for both wells is undertaken.

SG Interests anticipates that trucks hauling water off the site after it flows back while the wells are being completed would require 75 round trips. That “flowback” water would be hauled out for disposal at an approved site, the application said.

The wastewater would be stored in fracking tanks that would require another 35 round trips for transport.

Eric Sanford, SG Interests’ operations and land manager in Colorado, was working in the field Wednesday and couldn’t be reached by phone for comment.

Robbie Guinn, SG Interests’ vice president of land management at its Houston headquarters, didn’t return a telephone message seeking comment on the exploratory well proposal.