Methane drilling lags

Methane drilling lags

Though oil and gas drilling throughout the state is near record levels, the coal-bed methane industry is trailing 20 percent behind last year’s average of 50 rigs, according to the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

The delay is attributed to difficulties in obtaining water discharge permits for the produced groundwater associated with coal-bed methane. Regulatory officials believe the pace for coal-bed methane drilling will pick up because several seasonal restrictions were lifted June 15.

“We’re in the heart of the field season now, because we can do all the field work without delays for snow and muddy conditions,” said Chris Hanson, field manager for the Bureau of Land Management’s Buffalo field office.

Though coal-bed methane drilling is down this year, the BLM Buffalo field office is actually issuing more permits than it did last year. At this time last year the office issued 1,392 permits, compared with 1,546 so far this year, Hanson said last week.

“Industry is not drilling half the permits they’re issued, because our permit issuing rate is ahead of last year’s,” Hanson said.

Bruce Hinchey, president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, said sometimes it takes a long time to obtain a water discharge permit, and coal-bed methane companies don’t want to drill a well that can’t be put on production. Water discharge permits are separate from drilling permits.

A state BLM spokeswoman said that last year the agency issued drilling permits for 3,706 oil and gas wells in Wyoming — conventional and coal-bed methane. This year the agency’s statewide goal is 4,908 wells.

“They may not be drilling at the same rate, but we have every intention to meet that goal,” said BLM spokeswoman Cindy Wertz. “As far as we’re concerned we’re on track.”


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