Bubble, Bubble: This Gas Means Trouble

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s previously reported here, my meeting with officials from the Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Conservation nearly two weeks ago on the “DeSoto Parish matter” provided some question responses indicating Environmental Division director Gary Snellgrove is being – publicly, at least – less than candid about the situation. One of my last questions to them, in fact, elicited no answer at all. “Since you’ve been getting reports of water well blowouts and bubbling in this area of the Bethany-Longstreet tract since at least 2014, has anyone compared those reports to the dates of horizontal well fracks and completions in the area to see if there’s some pattern?” Conservation’s chief counsel John Adams, Assistant Commissioner Gary Ross and Engineering Director Brent Campbell each looked startled by the suggestion. Commissioner Richard Ieyoub put his hands on his desk, leaned forward, looking to each in turn. Eyebrows were raised, shoulders shrugged, and ultimately all eyes turned to Environmental Division Director Gary Snellgrove. He folded his arms, and with what appeared to me to be a warning glare, shook his head slowly from right to left. Was that a no, or a “no comment”?, I wondered. What has really been going on in DeSoto Parish’s Bethany-Longstreet area – and for how long? Based on DNR’s presentation to GOHSEP (Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness) and the area’s drilling operators this past spring, they’ve been focusing on Sections 21, 22, 23, 26, 27, 28 of 13N, 15W as the “area of concern.” (The lawsuit filed in June also includes plaintiffs from Sections 20, 29, 33, and 34.) DNR’s account shows the first incident of a pressurized water well in Section 26, where, in July 2014, drilling operator XTO “plugged and abandoned” (P&A) well #31-9595Z “due to the presence of gas”. Then, in December 2015, Indigo had to do a P&A on rig supply well #31-9660Z in Section 22, also due to the presence of gas. One year later, in December 2016, Indigo had to dig a “relief” well in Section 22, to vent gas pressure in the Carizzo-Wilcox aquifer. This relief well was adjacent to a pair of Haynesville Shale wells (#249866 and 249867) Indigo had just begun drilling the previous month (Nov. 2016). Yet according to reports filed by DNR’s field agent, there was a lot more to it than that. They found gas was pressurizing the aquifer, and on 12-20-2016, DNR officially notified the Keatchie Water System to monitor its public water supply well located 500 feet from the new gas well site. The relief well dug to vent the gas flowed as expected, at first, but a day later, the pressure dropped. Left wide open, it died the next day. Two days later it began flowing again, then sputtered out within 4 hours. Then it started flowing again, but with drilling mud, not water. Meanwhile, water and gas bubbles were appearing around the gas well drilling pad. Going back to the “official” presentation to GOHSEP, DNR’s document says the next incident occurred in April 2017. An Indigo crew installing a pipeline in Section 28 reported a previously plugged and abandoned water well blowing water and gas in the woods visible from the pipeline right-of-way. A mile to the west, in Section 29, Indigo was completing fracking on a pair of wells, #249878 and #249879. Three months later – in July 2017 – a DNR inspector notes the same water well (#31-5054Z) had blown its cap, and was geysering water, gas and sand (a notable fracking component) into the air, leaving a crust on the surrounding trees. Meanwhile, Indigo was actively blowing open the shale less than a mile northeast, and four miles underground, fracking well #249867 with its explosively pressurized mix of water, chemicals and sand, according to the official records for that particular well. In September 2017, DNR issued the first emergency declaration, which they expanded the following month as bubbling was reported at another plugged and abandoned water well in section 28. Meanwhile, Indigo was completing its other fracked well to the northeast, #249866, less than a mile away. Emails from that time frame show there was some real confusion at DNR headquarters in Baton Rouge. What was the serial number of the latest water well? Was it #31-5005Z, #31-5051Z, or #31-5055Z? DNR’s Matt Simon was also emailing back and forth with Indigo’s senior drilling engineer Shara Myers, with his initial missive to her on 10-19-2017 stating, “I am the current Engineer Manager for Louisiana’s Oilfield Site Restoration. I have an emergency on my hands. – a rig supply well which is blowing out of control in the area. I believe you are aware of it. Do you have time to discuss how you went about controlling the well Indigo spudded in recently? I understand you had to drill a directional well to kill it.” In November, the DNR emergency contractor drills four relief wells around the initial rig supply well blowout site, and a 5th relief well adjacent to the second. But a pond between the two locations is now bubbling up gas, and each time it rains, bubbles appear along a pipeline right-of-way between the two sites. And the second rig supply well is actually described as “boiling.” Meanwhile, in the section one mile north of these problems, Comstock Oil and Gas was completing a pair of fracked Haynesville Shale wells, #250110 and #250254. It’s also important to note here that all of the horizontal drilling out from the base of the vertical portion of Haynesville Shale wells is required to run north to south, or vice-versa. Problems continue in Section 28 in February of this year, with bubbling reported at a non-Haynesville Shale well operated by Indigo. There’s bubbling all over the surface of the well pad for #229067. The well, which pulls gas from the Hosston formation “only” 1.6 miles underground, had been operating without incident since 2004. Less than a mile due east, in Section 27, two other wells – #215968 in the Hosston, and #158546, one mile down in the Rodessa formation – are bubbling around their respective well pads, too. This happens as, in Section 33, due south of Section 28, and southeast of Section 27, Indigo is completing the horizontal drilling portion of four Haynesville Shale wells: #250494, #250495, #250496, and #250497. The actual fracking of these four wells will take place in June. That’s when a crack — what Gary Snellgrove described as “a crevice six inches wide” — opened up in Section 28, and “gurgling” could be heard coming from underground. They have subsequently “placed a vent pipe in the biggest part.” And in Section 21, due north of this, Indigo is currently drilling #251045 and #251046 into the Haynesville Shale. Coincidental? Possibly. Yet consider how many vertical holes of varying depths have been drilled deep into the earth of DeSoto Parish to tap its underlying water, oil and gas fields. Take Section 28, for example: in this one square mile, there are 10 water wells, and 12 gas wells, ranging from 5500 to more than 16-thousand feet deep. Add the pressures of fracking fluids cracking open the layers of shale, and the chances of fissures forming – essentially man-made faults – are not outside the realm of possibility. And, in fact, as part of DNR’s presentation to the area drilling operators last spring, the state agency specifically asked them: “Do you have any subsurface geologic maps? Additionally, do you know of any faults or shear zones in this area?” That raises another question. Why hasn’t DNR put even a temporary moratorium on drilling and fracking new Haynesville Shale wells in all the sections directly adjacent to those where there’s bubbling and blowouts of water wells? The likely answer to that is the topic of our next report.
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Sue Lincoln
Sue Lincoln is a veteran and widely-respected reporter who has been covering Louisiana politics for nearly three decades. Originally from Long Beach, California, Sue’s career in journalism began on the radio in Los Angeles. After moving to Louisiana, Sue earned her bachelor’s degree. For ten years, from 2000-2010, she was the Assistant News Director at Louisiana Network. Sue also worked as the education reporter for Louisiana Public Broadcasting and has contributed to various state publications as a freelance journalist. But she is perhaps best known as the voice of the popular politics Capitol Access.