CBM operator rallies against blowout prevention measure

Upset about pending new “blowout prevention” requirements in the coal-bed methane gas industry, Powder River Basin operator Yates Petroleum has organized several public meetings on April 14 in Gillette to make its case against the measure.

Click here for a pdf of the notice circulated by Yates Petroleum.

Yates Petroleum declined to talk about its objections. However, the notice the company circulated this week claims “The Bureau of Land Management is considering an unneeded, undesirable and potentially unsafe change in drilling requirements that has strong potential to further delay drilling and reduce the number of Coalbed Methane wells drilled in the Powder River Basin.”

Late Wednesday afternoon, Wyoming BLM High Plains District manager Stephanie Connolly told WyoFile that the agency has been working quietly behind the scenes with the industry to resolve a concern about the potential to encounter pressurized gas while drilling for coal-bed methane in the Powder River Basin.

Connolly explained that when the industry began in earnest more than 10 years ago, operators drilled into relatively shallow coals which were not typically highly-pressurized with gas. However, as the play has advanced westward and into deeper coals, federal regulators are increasingly concerned about the potential for a “blowout” during the drilling operation.

Wyoming BLM officials are considering the implementation of “Onshore Order No. 2” which requires blowout prevention devices be used in the drilling operation. However, Connolly said details of the 20-year-old Onshore Order No. 2 are not easily applied to coal-bed methane gas drilling in the Powder River Basin. She said Wyoming BLM has been working closely with industry recently to figure out how to meet “the spirit of Onshore Order No. 2” while still taking into consideration the unique aspects of the Powder River Basin industry.

Connolly said BLM officials plan to continue working with the industry to resolve concerns, including a scheduled meeting with the Petroleum Association of Wyoming on Thursday.

There were a handful of “blowout” events in the coal-bed methane gas industry when commercial drilling first took off in the late 1990s, including one that resulted in a fatality. At that time, state and federal regulators worked with the industry to implement a blowout prevention requirement that involved a “bluey line,” which consists of a long pipe to vent unexpected belches of gas away from the rig crew.

This is not the first time Yates has organized public meetings due to concerns about regulations. About a year ago Yates called a similar public meeting to make its case that the BLM was unnecessarily holding up drilling permits.

Dustin Bleizeffer, WyoFile editor-in-chief, 307-577-6069, dustin@wyofile.com

Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 25 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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