Success stories often include words like “fun” and “wonderful.”
When Roy Roux talks about his company’s success in Utah’s remote and rugged Southwest Uinta Basin, different words are used.
Words like hard. Frustrating. Challenging.
And ultimately, of course, rewarding.
“All our activities have been difficult,” Roux said of the lengthy process of drilling in the remote West Tavaputs Plateau area. “The area is rugged, remote and beautiful ... The environmental obstacles were manageable, but the regulatory ones were very difficult.”
Roux, senior vice president of the Bill Barrett Corp. in Denver, talked of the experience at the recent 3-D Seismic Symposium, an annual event in Denver sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists.
At times the story is filled with the excitement that success stories typically carry. At times the story is a cautionary tale.
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Either way, company officials had a good reason for being enthusiastic about the play’s potential: The survey data showed substantial structures with depth. And in the beginning, the 3-D project’s estimated cost was $4.2 million.
Ultimately, costs ballooned to $8 million.
“We were completely unaware of the obstacles we were facing,” he said.
Roux noted that patience and perseverance won out over the challenges of the project -- but added that “this project would have never got off the ground if it had to pass yearly financial metrics.”
‘Majestic, But Rough’
The site, located south of Utah’s Nine Mile Canyon, has seen sporadic exploration and intermittent drilling for the last 50 years. However, rough topography and access to markets suppressed more thorough development in the past.
How rough is it?
“Our pumpers were carrying two to three spares in the trucks to get out there,” he noted.
The area saw an initial surge in the 1960s for oil, then a quiet period that became active again in the 1970s. In 2002 the Bill Barrett Corp. acquired 13 wells in the Stone Cabin, Jack Canyon and Peter’s Point federal units and adjacent areas in Carbon County Utah, Southwest Uinta Basin.
The company faced an array of regulatory challenges in conducting its business in the area, far beyond what is usually encountered on federal lands, he said, including:
- Special interest group scrutiny.
- Difficult regulatory practices from the Bureau of Land Management.
- Intense legal opposition from environmental groups.
In April 2002 the company applied for a 3-D seismic permit with the BLM for an 83-square-mile survey that covered steep hillsides and a 6,000-foot offset.
“That’s where all our producing horizons were,” Roux said. “I was naive enough to think the geophysical problems would be the most difficult.”
Instead, it was the regulatory requirements that caused the biggest challenge, he said; the BLM controlled 95 percent of the surface.
“We faced a whole host of BLM obstacles, from crew waste control to road dust control,” he said. “It was a painful process of going through all the steps with the BLM.”
Finally, in March 2004, the company received approval for the survey.
The survey was conducted in the extremely rugged plateau area south of Nine Mile Canyon that is known for containing petroglyphs and rock art. More than 240 archaeological sites were identified and avoided during the course of the seismic project, he said.
“Seismic operations were continuously followed by independent third party compliance, archaeological and ground motion monitors,” Roux said.
After 54 days, the survey was completed in mid-October 2004:
- About 52 percent of the program was acquired with heli-portable drills.
- About 38 percent was acquired with buggy drills.
- About 10 percent was acquired by Vibroseis that was utilized on canyon roads because of its low impact. Particle motion was required within 500 feet of all recorded archaeological sites, he said.
Surface elevation on the prospect ranged from 4,700 feet to over 8,200 feet with several canyons bisecting the 3-D with vertical relief over 3,000 feet, he said.
“This difficult topography necessitated the use of true heli-portable seismic acquisition techniques for both shot hole drilling and recording,” he said. “Several isolated plateaus within the 3-D boundary were recorded using recently developed microwave links, which allowed the company to avoid laying seismic cables across these rugged canyons.
“It’s a majestic but rough area,” he said. “We used six microwave data links that were very helpful.”
And In the End...
Meanwhile, a lawsuit was brewing over the project. The Sierra Club, Wilderness Society and other environmentalist groups sued the BLM over the operation.
“We spent 22 months with the BLM. Then we got hit by a lawsuit and we prevailed in court,” Roux said.
Roux noted that the company consulted with 12 Native American tribes along with four state and three federal agencies, and 14 organizations and Carbon County government in its effort to drill in the area.
After more than three years the company finally spudded a well at Peter’s Point. The target was located underneath the canyon floor of Jack Canyon, which required the well be deviated laterally some 3,500 feet.
The well was spudded in May 2005 and reached a total depth of 15,349 feet in September.
This deep discovery earned the company the Oil and Gas Investor magazine’s Discovery of the Year award.
The company plans to drill two and perhaps as many as six Dakota/Jurassic locations this year. Future wells are slated to test the deeper Weber and Mississippian Formations at 17,000 plus feet.
At the end of 2005, the West Tavaputs area had 33 producing wells and currently is producing 51 MMCFGD gross, he said.