Purchase photos

Drilling draws crowd in Gove Co.

8/21/2012

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

GRAINFIELD -- There's been a steady stream of vehicles crossing a fresh pair of cattle guards northwest of Grainfield.

Interest in Apache Corp.'s new horizontal drilling rig certainly was enough to draw nearly 500 people to the Grainfield American Legion Hall -- nearly twice as many people actually living in Grainfield.

Apache started drilling the well Wednesday, its first venture into Kansas. The well is aiming at what's known as the Mississippi Lime formation, approximately 325 million years old and nearly 5,000 feet below ground.

It wasn't just the free meal drawing in Thursday's crowd.

There were questions, and Apache has been offering $300 an acre to Gove County farmers for the right to drill for oil on their land.

Already, Apache has leased nearly 600,000 acres of Kansas land, much of it in northern Gove County and southern Sheridan County. That's where virtually all of the landowners attending Thursday's barbecue came from, and they streamed in to hear what Apache had to say.

Some landowners have received lease checks, most apparently later than first agreed to, while others still are waiting.

Apache acknowledged the problem, as did its contractor, Transcontinental Leasing Co.

But the offers simply are too good to pass up, and in some cases are more than what farmers originally paid for the land.

A section of ground, 640 acres, for example, would fetch $192,000 for the landowner. Apache's drilling projects in the Gove-Sheridan county area, five of them already lined up, each cover a section of ground.

Apache representatives sought to allay fears about the project.

There were plenty of questions; however, several asked publicly and many more as the crowd streamed forward for the meal, allowing individuals to ask questions.

"We're blunt," said Luke Lawrence, Apache's drilling manager for new ventures. "We put it right out there."

But, he said, Apache also wants to be a good neighbor.

That means converting some of its vehicles to compressed natural gas, even its drilling rig to a liquid natural gas-diesel setup.

"It reduces emissions," he said.

They've also eliminated pits, other than a small one used for cuttings brought up by the drilling rig.

And the six horizontal wells that will be drilled all will be done on the same spot, a massive operation that includes trailers and equipment.

"It's a little more expensive," Lawrence said of using a single pad. "It's the right thing to do."

Apache's also using above ground water storage, rather than digging a pit.

"When we remove it, there's very little impact," he said of the tanks.

Lawrence said the Gove wells are exploratory, with a 10 percent to 20 percent success rate.

While there were questions -- and concerns -- about water use, Apache representatives said they've drilled four wells to get the water it needs.

It takes anywhere from 84,000 to 126,000 gallons of water to drill a well, said Jaime Ramirez, Apache's completions engineer.

The drilling and fracturing of rock far underground to withdraw the oil -- in horizontal extensions nearly a mile long -- could take as much as 1.9 million gallons.