While the hot Niobrara Shale play is getting all the headlines, other areas in eastern Wyoming are getting a fresh look from energy companies for the first time in decades.
Posted by Ann Rascalli
A lot of it has to do with relatively new drilling technology that is enabling drillers to go deeper into the ground than ever before and than out horizontally. Advances in seismic imaging is helping them get a better look at old fields and the potential deposits that still may be there, as well as formations that have never been examined.
Heavyweights like Chesapeake Energy Corp. and EOG Resources Inc. are joining the party.
To be sure, some of the increased activity is targeting the Niobrara Shale, but other drilling is aimed at new formations and the edges of old oil fields in Converse County, southern Campbell County and Natrona County.
“That’s kind of an untold story,” Tom Doll, superintendent of the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission told the Casper Star Tribune.
So far this year, the commission has issued 124 permits for Converse, Natrona and Campbell counties, compared to 87 for Larimie, Platte and Goshen counties.
Most of the drilling is still in the exploratory phase in which companies are evaluating several geologic formations. Some of the permits being issued are for tight oil sand formations, or somewhat porous sandstone that contains oil. These formations cross both above and under the ubiquitous Niobrara, and include the Shannon, Teapot, Frontier, Parkman, Sussex, and Turner sandstone formations, among others.
In some instances, the new drilling activity involves hydraulic fracturing, but not always. It depends on the underlying geology. “Fracking” is a process by which water, sand and chemical additives are pumped underground with great pressure, breaking up rock and other underground barriers that block the flow of oil and gas.
Fracking is widely used in natural gas plays, but the technique is also breathing new life into otherwise marginal sources of oil, along with advances in drilling technology. It is helping companies extend the production life of old fields.
While they don’t have the potential of the Niobrara, given the increasingly high price of oil, these areas can still be financially viable for the energy companies doing the work.