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Production Restarts as Louisiana Floodwaters Recede

More than three weeks after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) began diverting the Mississippi River into the Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana, the number of shut-in oil and gas wells -- as well as the floodwaters -- are beginning to recede.

"It hasn't been bad at all," Louisiana Oil & Gas Association President Don Briggs told NGI on Tuesday. "We thought it was going to be worse. The water didn't get as high and is receding that much quicker now. I haven't had any of my companies call and tell me that they were having huge problems that were out of the ordinary. It's just a matter of time before the area will go back to work and put some of those wells back online."

The Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reported Tuesday that 162 oil and gas wells remained inundated, slightly more than 27% of the 592 wells the USACE said could be affected by the flood. The DNR estimates the amount of production being lost as totaling 3,720 b/d of oil and 31.54 MMcf/d of natural gas. That represents a 19.3% decrease in oil production within the potential flood zone, while natural gas production is off by 12.5%.

DNR spokeswoman Phyllis Darensbourg told NGI that one shut-in well came back into service since Friday, and added that the shut-in total had not exceeded 168 wells. The agency's shut-in well count indicated that five additional wells came back into service on Tuesday.

"Nothing truly happened over the weekend for us to report," Darensbourg said Tuesday. Asked if the DNR had noticed any trend with regard to the shut-in total, she said, "We can't speculate. It's just a matter of what's going to be reported to us. If we saw a trend, if every day there was one coming on, we would be able to say that we saw a pattern. But we haven't seen that yet."

Briggs said all of the shut-in wells would more than likely return to service, barring any technical problems.

"Sometimes some integrity problems develop when you shut a well in," Briggs said. "That's always a possibility, but it's kind of doubtful for this short period of time. When the operators get back they'll go through the normal processes of bringing their wells back on. Sometimes it's just turning a valve. But I'm sure they're going to have to do some inspection, flushing and making sure their lines are clear of debris. It's just normal cleanup and maintenance work, checking all of the valves and equipment, before they open their wells up."

The USACE began diverting Mississippi floodwaters -- in order to protect Baton Rouge and New Orleans -- on May 14 when it opened two of the 125 gates of the Morganza Spillway (see Daily GPI, May 17). More gates were opened every day until May 18, when 17 gates had been opened and the discharge from the floodwaters measured 114,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). The corps began closing gates on May 23.

USACE spokeswoman Rachel Rodi told NGI that three Morganza gates remained open after the corps closed two more on Tuesday. She said the floodwater discharge now measured 24,000 cfs at Morganza.

"We certainly have seen a reduced flow and that's why we have been closing gates daily," Rodi said. "We could have them all closed potentially by the end of this week."

Rodi said that although the flooding had eased at Morganza, the threat was still strong downriver at the Bonnet Carré Spillway, where 330 of its 350 bays remained open to protect New Orleans.

"We're still being vigilant and doing daily inspections of our levees throughout the entire system," Rodi said. "The threat is not over yet. While there is a recession of the water we are still keeping a watchful eye."

Jonathan Brazzell, a meteorologist at the Lake Charles, LA office of the National Weather Service, told NGI it would be a few more weeks for floodwaters to subside completely in the Atchafalaya Basin.

"The floodwaters are receding, but it will still be some time yet," Brazzell said Tuesday. "Inside the floodway itself, just south of the Morganza, that will take probably a couple of weeks [to recede] after they have completely closed the gates. It will still be above flood stage at Morgan City [LA] well into early July at least, but they'll be able to handle a lot of that. The backwater at Butte La Rose [LA] is starting to drop pretty fast now, and I expect that by the end of the week that will all be gone."

Brazzell said initial reports predicted that more than 300,000 acres would flood, but many of those areas did not become submerged because of local mitigation efforts.

Still, Briggs said he was very concerned about forecasters' predictions that the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season would see "well above-average activity" (see Daily GPI, June 2).

"When hurricanes come through they tear up the infrastructure, whereas with this flood that is not the case," Briggs said. "You don't have power outages, strong winds, toppled equipment and all of the different things that go along with a hurricane.

"That's kind of scary and bothers me a lot."

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