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Deep Snow, Severe Cold Hinder Rockies Producers

After 60 inches of snowfall so far this winter in the Denver area and sub-zero temperatures in eastern Utah and western Wyoming, Rockies producers have battled wellhead freeze-offs and snow removal in an effort to maintain production.

It's been "a real pain the backside," said Chuck Stanley, executive vice president of Questar's Market Resources (QMR) subsidiary.

"A couple of days ago it got above zero during the day, but we had minus 20-30 degree nights and very cold days," he said. "What happens in our area is the cold gets trapped down in the topographic basins and just sits there."

That has led to some well freeze offs in the Uinta Basin and in western Wyoming, Stanley said. The other problem has been trying to keep the fracture-stimulation water heated. Drilling services company Halliburton recently discussed Rocky Mountain region drilling problems in its earnings report.

"Every well we drill is fracture stimulated with water-based fluids," Stanley said. "We normally see some freeze-offs this time of year so it's nothing dramatic. But it is a real challenge. It's immaterial to our total production volume, but it is keeping our guys scrambling to keep all of our wells flowing.

"It's still sub-zero at night here and in the single digits during the day. It makes things difficult, not impossible. It slows you down."

Farther south on the eastern slope of the Rockies, heavy snow and very little melting have left producers with some pretty huge snow removal bills. "Since the first storm on Dec. 20, the biggest challenge has been getting all the batteries and wells up and running," said EnCana Corp. spokesman Doug Hock. "In the Denver-Julesburg Basin we operate about 800 wells (50 MMcf/d of gas production). During the worst stretch our production there was down somewhere between 10% and 14%.

"We purchased a couple of snowmobiles just to get to some of these locations. Our snow removal bill in January in the DJ Basin was about $125,000.

"This is really getting old," he said. "We've had snow for six consecutive weekends. Today it's cold and it's supposed to be cold all week but I don't think we're supposed to get any more snow. Hopefully we'll break out of this at some point."

Hock said one of the challenges has been thawing the valves on older equipment in the field. The other impacts have been related to construction. The ground has been frozen about 2-3 feet deep in places. Hock said EnCana still has about 36 wells in the DJ shut in, representing about 4 MMcf/d and 150 bbl of oil.

Bentek Energy, which last week reported a 5.3% drop in total U.S. gas production between Jan. 10 and Jan. 17 -- some of it due to freeze-offs, said flows in the Rockies are gradually returning to normal (see Daily GPI, Jan. 29). For example, Kern River flows to California are back up to near 100% of capacity at 2 Bcf/d after having dipped to about 1.7 Bcf/d Jan. 18-20.

Northwest Pipeline flows south of Green River to Opal, WY, have slightly recovered to about 275 MMcf/d from about 250 MMcf/d on Jan. 21 -- on Jan. 1 flows totaled 350 MMcf/d. And Cheyenne Plains flows from the Cheyenne Hub to Panhandle Eastern are running near 800 MMcf/d, up about 200 MMcf/d from the low point on Jan. 19 but not quite back to the 1 Bcf/d levels seen in December.

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