Sharon Dunn
sdunn@greeleytribune.com

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December 7, 2013
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Oil, gas industry meets Weld’s winter blast head-on

There may be a few frozen toes in Weld County’s oil fields as the recent cold snap is bringing a dose of winter reality a little earlier than planned.

Those in the industry are no strangers to winter weather — many having operated in North Dakota and Wyoming — and they have loads of protocol to keep their wells and operations running like clockwork.

“It slows things down, and you have to thaw things out. There’s just a lot of other additional work you have to do in this cold weather,” said Ed Holloway, CEO and president of Synergy Resources in Platteville, which just fracked a well this week. “I’m sure my guys would like to be in warmer weather, but they’re all out there working. I’m not saying they’re in the best of moods.”

The weather doesn’t affect drilling activity so much as it does producing wells, which all have some levels of water mixed in with the oil and gas. Those three liquids are separated at the wellhead — the oil and gas are sent to market via truck for oil and pipeline for gas, while the water is stored for either injection or recycling.

Already existing high gas line pressures in natural gas pipelines headed to market have added to the problems, limiting the volume of gas that can go into pipelines, which could lead to operators waiting in line to off-load their natural gas.

That could mean shutting in wells until line pressures are reduced enough to bring on added volumes.

“When you stop producing, (any well) that has water in it, even for few minutes, will freeze,” said Jerry Sommer, CEO of Tekton Energy, which this week already experienced some frozen wells. “We’re spending money really fast. If it’s for a few days, it won’t be devastating. … When it spills into next week, then we’ll be out a chunk of money. My costs actually go up.”

Just paying people to babysit the wells to ensure they don’t freeze, or pipes don’t burst, or working to thaw what’s already frozen will add up quickly, said Collin Richardson, vice president of operations for Mineral Resources in Greeley.

“If you have to send people to put blankets over things and rent heaters, that costs money,” Richardson said.

But experiences vary throughout Weld’s vast drilling fields, where wells can freeze even in the dog days of summer. It’s comparable to the compressed air people use to clean their computer keyboards. At high enough pressures, they get cold.

“This cold weather does create some problems for us on the production side of things,” Holloway said. “I haven’t gotten any reports yet, but I am anticipating them next week.”

Holloway said while freezing is a problem, the bigger concerns are the drastic temperature changes.

“We really have the problems when we have extreme cold, then extreme warm and back to extreme cold, where the frost in the ground goes up and down,” Holloway said. “If we just have continually cold weather, things are generally OK. Last year, we experienced quite a few line freezes due to the fact that frost line was moving up and down. One foot then down to four feet. It’s amazing to even talk about until you’re out digging a hole.”

Companies have many choices when it comes to keeping their equipment warm, such as heat taping, steamers or blankets to insulate pipes. For frozen pipes underground, they can inject methanol, which dissolves the ice. Water tanks are insulated, and water pools for fracking are heated.

But the freezing issues are indeed early in the season.

At Mineral Resources’ east Greeley drilling site, at U.S. 85, crews read temperatures of 15 below zero this week. One of its wells in west Greeley froze Thursday night.

“It seems like it’s usually February when this happens,” said Tyler Richardson, also of Mineral Resources.

Added his brother, Collin: “We deal with it every year. It just happens to be sooner in the season.”

In all, the issues are no surprise to Weld’s experienced oil and gas players.

“The industry is pretty well used to it,” Holloway said of the cold weather blasts. “We’re a seven-day-a-week industry, so … we’ll bundle up. It’s just business as usual.”


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My Windsor Now Updated Dec 7, 2013 12:45AM Published Dec 10, 2013 10:03AM Copyright 2013 My Windsor Now. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.