Soon, the city of Broomfield’s landscape could substantially change. Once an oil field, now filled with residential development, the area is dotted with storage tanks and well sites.
If a plan by Extraction Oil and Gas comes to fruition, 41 unsightly wells that dot residential neighborhoods could disappear.
In fact, communities all over northern Colorado already are seeing fewer storage tanks and well sites — even while companies are drilling more wells.
That’s because of a relatively recent state oil and gas policy that is making a rather hefty impact in the Colorado oil scene. The rule is responsible for hundreds of old vertical wells being plugged and abandoned as companies seek to drill horizontal wells instead. The result is a cleaner landscape and a return of land back to surface owners.
The horizontal well offset policy has been responsible for hundreds of pluggings in the past two years. In 2016, companies drilling in Weld County plugged 801 wells, up 17.4 percent from the previous year, and up more than double the number of wells plugged of 2013, before the rule was implemented by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
The commission in 2014 created the horizontal well offset policy, which requires operators planning to drill horizontal wells within 1,500 feet of an old vertical well to examine the vertical well’s integrity. The fear, said Matt Lepore, executive director of the COGCC, was that there would be some communication between the new and old wells that would negatively affect pressure or the integrity of the older well.
The point of the rule is to examine how well the vertical well construction isolates the water bearing zones from the hydrocarbon zone, Lepore said. The main concern is if the pressure waves of hydraulic fracturing damage the older wells’ casings or cementing.
“The bottom line for us, if you can’t ensure those vertical wells have that integrity we’re working for, then do something else, like not frac the horizontal in that zone or reroute the horizontal or something else,” Lepore said. “The long wind up is that one of things operators are choosing to do with old vertical wells rather than rehab them is just plug and abandon them.”
Plugging verticals also can be more about progress in technology. As technologies have changed and improved the drilling and recovery of oil and gas, many companies have altogether abandoned their old vertical programs — which are not that old in today’s drilling fields.
Anadarko Petroleum has long since stopped drilling vertical wells for obvious reasons — horizontal well are much more productive and economic, and they take up less space.