ConocoPhillips could frack 10 more wells in Sahtu

ConocoPhillips could frack 10 more wells in Sahtu
MGM Energy drills near Tulita. The company pulled its horizontal drilling application after it was sent to environmental assessment. ConocoPhillips said it has yet to decide if it will do further exploration if directed to the assessment stage.Photo: Jean Polfus.

ConocoPhillips will be applying to drill up to 10 more wells in the Sahtu over the next five years, but said the application doesn’t guarantee the oil and gas company will be moving forward with more fracking in the region.

Company spokesperson Lauren Stewart told The Journal that ConocoPhillips expects to complete its application for more drilling in the next month, but regulatory approval and results from the first stage of exploratory drilling, which wrapped up this month, will determine whether or not they go forward.

She said the company may choose to pause for a few years, proceed or even stop exploration, regardless of whether results are favourable, unfavourable or unclear.

“Factors considered in making a decision to move forward include resource complexity, technical success, regulatory approvals, commerciality, internal portfolio management, local support and market conditions,” she said.

EA could be factor

If the application is referred to environmental assessment, as is being requested by hundreds of concerned residents, Stewart said the company would make a decision “at that time” whether or not to proceed with more exploration.

Conoco’s winter drilling program bypassed the assessment process last summer after MGM Energy withdrew its application to do fracking in the Sahtu in 2012 when it was sent to environmental assessment, citing too many costs.

“It’s important to note that we understand that there are concerns around the potential environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing and that’s why we submitted a robust application to the Sahtu Land and Water Board in 2013, complete with extensive cumulative effects research and environmental data. Much of this research would actually be part of any environmental assessment,” Stewart said.

No technical problems with wells

The recent winter drilling program marked the first time ConocoPhillips – and any company in the NWT – has drilled horizontally using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the territory. Previously, the company had drilled two vertical wells in the area.

Though the company is refusing to give details of well productivity for two years, Stewart said all four wells drilled “very well” with no technical issues.

“What was found was that wellbore stability is very good,” she said, meaning “the hole maintains its size and cylindrical shape.”

Stewart could not disclose specific costs of the exploratory program, but said the company had exceeded its five-year work commitment of $66.7 million, which includes seismic and drilling work.

The winter drilling project hired a total of 106 local employees, the majority from Tulita, Norman Wells and elsewhere in the Sahtu, with another 41 per cent coming from elsewhere in the North. Tulita contractors received 91 per cent of the total contracts awarded for a total of $17 million in direct local spending.

Safety improvements underway

Though the wells were technically sound, several safety incidents arose at the drilling site between January to March. Freshwater spills, wastewater truck accidents and a worker injury were close calls that could have resulted in more serious issues for the company, which Stewart says has taken the incidents “extremely seriously.”

“The incidents that happened during our project that resulted in the one injury or damage to property were fully investigated,” she said. “Any learnings that were found will be used to enhance our Safety Management System going forward into future project years.”

Additionally, the company hired full-time safety advisors to be on site and work closely with supervisors and workers as concerns arise. A safety bulletin was created for the truck drivers, who are required to read and sign the document showing they understand all safety precautions of driving on the winter road.

“Our work is never so important that we can’t take the time to do it safely and in a manner that protects people and the environment,” Stewart said.

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