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Operators of vertical wells hold pre-session briefing for Oklahoma legislators

Water from the purge on the line between Blaine and Kingfisher counties is funnelled into a lined pit where it is collected into frack tanks for periodic disposal. [PROVIDED]
Water from the purge on the line between Blaine and Kingfisher counties is funnelled into a lined pit where it is collected into frack tanks for periodic disposal. [PROVIDED]

A group representing Oklahoma vertical well operators are reminding Oklahoma House and Senate members they continue to back legislation that would protect legacy vertical well owners from frack hits.

The Oklahoma Energy Producers Alliance also is calling for legislators to learn more about the use of shallower underground formations to dispose of produced water from oil and gas wells the past several years.

Regulators have allowed saltwater disposal well operators to use those formations to lower potential risks of earthquakes related to deeper disposal operations.

However, alliance leaders said those shallower zones have become saturated, posing increased risks of saltwater intrusion into vertical wells and causing other consequences, such as a surface purge of saltwater happening near Omega in northwest Oklahoma since July.

Kurt Bollenbach, who operates numerous vertical wells (including at least one near the purge) through Teocalli Exploration LLC, said the purge is putting out enough saltwater daily to fill an average-size American swimming pool.

Bollenbach said discussions he has had with experienced engineers and geologists have convinced him of two things.

He said the purge is not a naturally occurring event. He also said the purge is a symptom of “simply forcing too much disposed water at too high of pressure into zones that are too shallow."

"We are just overdoing it,” he said. “We are simply trading one problem for another. It is a threat not only to our investments, but a threat to the environment and the oil and gas industry as a whole."

While the shallower formation issue is a recent development, Bollenbach told legislators that his company, started in the early 1980s, also has experienced well bashing problems.

He said his company has lost more than 30 wells and millions of dollars in production, suffered millions of dollars in expenses and millions of dollars of intrinsic value to frack hits during the past five years.

Like others who addressed legislators at the pre-session briefing last week, Bollenbach asked for the Legislature to consider requiring the Corporation Commission to develop new rules that would force horizontal well developers to negotiate with vertical well owners as part of a pre-approval process before obtaining a drilling permit.

He also called for legislators to provide more money to the Corporation Commission, allowing it to better oversee ongoing operations.

“We simply want to avoid problems before they occur,” Bollenbach said.

Mary Ann McGee, who owns dozens of vertical-producing wells along with her husband through GLM Energy, said many smaller independent operators lack the resources to be able to adequately fight drilling permit requests for horizontal wells that are filed by larger, publicly traded companies.

An attorney, geologist and landmen are needed to protest, creating tens of thousands of dollars of expenses many can’t afford, she told legislators.

Like Bollenbach, McGee said her company has lost numerous wells to frack hits and that it has been working through arbitration to be compensated for its losses.

“If I hadn’t been an attorney myself, there is no way I could have afforded it,” she said.

The OEPA estimates there are about 3,000 small producers in Oklahoma and its alliance includes about 525 of them.

The alliance told legislators it continues to back House Bill 1379 by Rep. Zack Taylor, R-Seminole.

The measure, which made out of the House Judiciary Committee in 2019 but never was considered by the full chamber, proposes requiring horizontal well operators that are drilling and completing their wells to avoid creating pollution, production or equipment problems to previously drilled and producing vertical wells.

The “Art and Yvonne Platt Act” would require any operator creating a negative impact on a vertical well to immediately begin minimizing that damage and to conduct timely negotiations with vertical well owners to resolve any claims the latter might have.

The measure is named after Art and Yvonne Platt, who owned vertical wells they produced oil and gas from in Kingfisher County and who previously stated they lost some of their retirement incomes after those wells were impacted by completions of new horizontal wells drill in the same area.

It remains active for the current session, though Taylor said it is opposed by the Petroleum Alliance of Oklahoma.

Jack Money

Jack Money has worked for The Oklahoman for more than 20 years. During that time, he has worked for the paper’s city, state, metro and business news desks, including serving for a while as an assistant city editor. Money has won state and regional... Read more ›