DENVER -- Challenged by a sprawling population in the highly desirable and prolific Niobrara, speakers from the two largest operators in the play emphasized the importance of working together with citizens and communities, and talked about environmentally responsible operations and projects.
Dan Kelly, vice president of Noble Energy Inc.’s (NYSE: NBL) Denver-Julesburg Basin project, challenges his people who are working in the field to ask themselves every day, “With the work you’re doing, will you be invited back?”
Craig Walters, Wattenberg director for Anadarko Petroleum Corp. (NYSE: APC) in Denver, said, “We’ve got to be honest and open with the public in every area where we operate. We can’t do everything the public wants but it’s important that we listen.”
The Wattenberg field, in the heart of the Denver-Julesburg Basin, is one of the most active development areas in the country. Greeley, Colo., the county seat of Weld County and home to 250,000 residents and the University of Northern Colorado, sits over a seismically discovered geothermal anomaly.
Noble holds about 640,000 acres in the basin and drilled about 200 horizontal wells in 2012. Anadarko holds about two-thirds of the Wattenberg field, with 350,000 net acres. It estimates that its Wattenberg horizontal program holds net resources of 1 billion to 1.5 billion barrels of oil equivalent (BOE).
Delineating the size of the resource has required about 2,000 square miles of 3D seismic surveying, which means that a good portion of the survey has had to tread around the community.
In 2013, a seismic acquisition company shot one of the largest urban 3D seismic shoots in the country, at 23 square miles.
Kelly said, “The ‘social license’ to operate here is different than in Texas. Consider that some neighboring northern Colorado communities either have hydraulic fracturing moratoriums or have voted for outright bans, such as the city of Longmont.”
Both companies have taken a proactive, positive, neighbor-friendly and considerate approach to area residents. Both companies have funded an organization, Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development, and built a website, www.cred.org. The organization also sponsors TV advertisements on local channels.
Noble, for example, now requires local workers to take three days of classes on local politics and the community. Noble also directly mailed information to city and county residents. “That worked really well for us,” Kelly said.
The company also put ‘Seismic 101’ information on the community website, sent representatives door to door to listen to residents and had public demonstrations of seismic operations, including vibroseis trucks.
“Doing seismic is the first chance that we get to make an impression with the public. We spent time with our seismic contractors and field people so that they understood how important it is to communicate with the public,” Kelly said.
His philosophy for employees to remember is, “Are you prepared to be an ambassador for your industry? Are we doing everything we can do to do our job safely and responsibly?”
Additionally, Walters said, “All of Anadarko‘s people were given cards with Anadarko’s name and phone numbers. We hand these out to people we encounter while we are working.”
During seismic surveying, Anadarko used limited daytime hours for operation and shooting times. They also worked with local farmers during the winter months, so that they did not interfere with the planting, fertilizing and harvesting of the largely agricultural area.
Both companies used wireless seismic transducers to eliminate the cables associated with a seismic shoot, arranged shot locations, reduced presence in suburban neighborhoods and used smaller vibroseis trucks.
Noble is building a central liquid natural gas facility in the field to eliminate another area concern – truck traffic.
The Wells Ranch centralized processing facility is being built in Weld County to take natural gas off the wellhead and fuel its fleet, and use it to convert drilling rigs and wellhead operations to use their own natural gas.
The Wells Ranch facility will take in oil, natural gas and water piped in from the wellhead, separate it all in one 40-acre space, recycle the water and pipe the oil and natural gas to the markets. It will eliminate the hundreds of truck miles spent transporting them from one place to another.
According to Kelly, “We’ll reduce land usage over time, reduce air emissions from the wells themselves and significantly reduce truck traffic and emissions. We’ll capture our flash gas, which we’ll monetize. We’ll get more liquids out of the system,” Kelly said. “There are just tremendous benefits to establishing this infrastructure.”
Another way that both companies are reducing their footprint is with single-pad drilling and optimization.
Noble is working on a confirmed minimum 16 wells per section in the oil window, testing and using higher density spacing with 24 to 32 wells per section and using 3D seismic and logging to determine the optimal spacing.