Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Oil making big "play" in Laramie County

Niobrara Shale -- the blob that ate Laramie County. Map from the Unconventional Gas Center web site.

Cheyenne is not a Wyoming “energy boom town” like Gillette, Rock Springs or Pinedale.

That’s about to change. The oil rush is on in Laramie County. This past spring and summer, I’d read in the paper that leases for the Niobrara Formation were selling like hotcakes. A couple million here, a few million there. Serious money was changing hands – around $90 million -- some of it (and I hope it’s a lot) going into state coffers.

The drilling has begun. Near Carpenter, new high-tech pumping stations stick their straws into the earth, drilling down and then under and over to taste some of that sweet, sweet crude. The oil is sucked out of the ground and put it into storage tanks. You can see them if you drive south on Campstool Road. We’re used to industrial-looking stuff sticking out of the prairie – nuclear missile sites, old-fashioned oil wells, windmills (the new huge wind power kind and the old-fashioned kind), cell towers, etc. But soon, 21st century oil wells will be everywhere.

Last night at the Laramie County Democrats’ meeting at the IBEW Hall, County Commissioner Jeff Ketcham was handing out flyers for the “Southeast Wyoming Oil Shale Seminar.” The first meeting is Tuesday, Aug. 31 (tonight!), 6-8 p.m., at the Laramie County School District No. 1 Administration Building Auditorium in Cheyenne.

“Learn and converse about the Niobrara Oil Play and how it may affect us.”
I meant to ask Jeff to define “oil play” but didn’t get the chance. I was too busy listening to some of the impacts already happening in the county. But here’s what I found out at the Unconventional Gas Center site at http://www.ugcenter.com/:

The Niobrara has the potential to be the industry’s next large oil-shale resource play. Niobrara shales are prevalent throughout the Rocky Mountain region. A thick and continuous Cretaceous source rock, the Niobrara is rich in organics and thermally mature.
I hate to brag, but this sounds like me: “rich in organics and thermally mature.” Maybe I should change my name to Michael Shale.

I still don’t know what a “play” is. More research needed.

Jeff said that there were four voice messages calls waiting for him when he got to work the other day. All were complaining and dust and traffic on the county’s rural roads. And this is just after a few wells. Imagine what it will be like in a few years.

Gary Roadifer, running for the seat in House District 10, said that his town of Pine Bluffs already is home to seven man camps. Man camps, in case you don’t know, are barracks or RV campgrounds that house the people working at the sites. I tried to imagine seven man camps in a small town such as Pine (as the locals call it). That really has to impact a place. Gary quipped that the town’s only café has gone from $3 meals to $16 meals. That’s a whopping increase – you could buy three BK Whopper meals for this price. If there was a BK in PB.

“Discussion highlights” for tonight’s meeting:
  • Technical background: geology, technology, and process/time line
  • Industry needs: physical and employment
  • Environmental concerns
  • Planning for socio-economic impact
Big topics all. I’m looking forward to soaking up all the info, including the meaning of “oil play.”

 Q: Can Oil come out and play?
 A: Not today, son – he’s slick in bed.

Get it? Better not tell that one on the Gulf Coast.

Two more of these meetings are scheduled for Torrington and Wheatland, both on Wednesday. More info available from Anja Bendel, High Plains Economic Development District, 307-331-0012; anja.bendel@gmail.com


Tony said...

"Play" can be defined as some potential or existing oil or gas producing unit typically confined to one geologic formation (e.g. Niobrara Formation), or one geologic structure (e.g. Pinedale Anticline). Thus plays can be stacked, like the Niobrara and Frontier (which are different rock formations at different depths in the rock column). Plays can be limited to certain (paleo) basins, such as the DJ Basin, or can be defined much more broadly such as the Cretaceous Interior Seaway Niobrara Play (which includes all the basins on your blob map above). From a geologic standpoint, every prospect (potential drilling location) in a play must have similar characteristics of reservoir type, or it becomes a different play. Land men also have "lease plays" which are leasing campaigns in certain areas, but could be leasing for different oil and gas plays, or multiple oil and gas plays. Different parts of a play may have different fluids, such as the "oil window" or the "gas window" or those different parts might even be described as different plays. No one actually determines any official names for plays, so the name and definition sometimes varies slightly from company to company. (from an exploration geologist)

Michael Shay said...

Thanks, Tony. Very informative. I'm learning about this stuff for the first time. This Niobrara Shale exploration may have a huge impact on our county.