When you say the word “shale” to someone on the western slope, you’ll get a reaction,” says David Ludlam, Director of the Western Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, “And because of the western slope’s past history with oil shale, which is headed toward a more promising future today, the reaction is more of a misunderstanding.”
But it is a different shale, in this case “shale gas”—a natural gas found in “Mancos” shale rock formations–that may indeed be the driving force behind an energy boom that will put to rest the memories of that difficult time that began thirty-some years ago. “Explaining the difference between the two “shales” seems to always be the first order of business when discussing this great opportunity for our basin,” says Ludlam, “But once folks have the opportunity to understand the dramatic differences in the processes and products; it makes a lot of sense to them.”
Oddly, some of the main differences that are now to the western slope’s advantage came from the area’s loss not too long ago. The area began losing natural gas extraction activity three years ago due to the emergence of large scale, high volume shale gas projects in other states and regions. In addition to higher volumes of natural gas these new shale developments also yield higher volumes of lights oils along with the natural gas extraction which help offset their costs for drilling companies and expedite their return on investment. But, according to Ludlam, Colorado’s west slope may also be on the brink of a shale breakthrough of its own.
As the new technologies of directional, horizontal and deeper drillings advanced—along with the knowledge of how to drill into new formations—the opportunity on the western slope has never been greater. “Companies now can go into places that were never even considered just a few years ago,” says Ludlam, “So the old thinking of a 20-year supply of drilling inventory is out the window with so much potential yet to be discovered.”
Ludlam explains the fracking process for sandstone completions is like breaking concrete and the process involved in extracting Mancos shale gas is more like breaking up asphalt and requires much different methods for completing the wells. Initial results from some operators show that Mancos and Niobrara shale wells are capable of producing seven to ten times more natural gas than traditional tight sands wells. But the possibilities don’t end there. “Companies are looking at ways to create multi-use wells that can extract at different depths,” says Ludlam, “And they can also use their leases and infrastructure already in place to take this opportunity from development to reality much faster and more affordably. In theory, such future efficiencies might give our basin a competitive advantage, noted Ludlam.”