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Soggy roads hurt well completions

Posted 10/23/13 (Wed)

By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer

The rain that fell the weekend of Oct. 10-14 caused a load restriction enforcement on all the gravel roads in McKenzie County. The purpose was to preserve the integrity of McKenzie County’s gravel roadways into the winter for safety purposes as well as road management.
However, according to Lynn Helms, director of Mineral Resources for the North Dakota Industrial Commission, that short period of load enforcement will significantly impact October’s oil and natural gas production numbers, and inadvertently affect production numbers through the end of the year.
According to McKenzie County Commissioner Ron Anderson, a load restriction was enforced on all gravel roads in McKenzie County at 7 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 11, after it had been raining steadily over the whole county since late on the previous evening. The gravel road load restriction was lifted on Saturday at noon and reinforced on Monday, Oct. 14, at 7:30 a.m., after steady rains started falling late on Sunday evening.
It was reported last week that a load restriction was enforced on all county roads, but that is incorrect.
Anderson states that all paved county roads already have a six-ton load restriction on them, unless they have been brought up to 105,500 standards.
The county’s mandatory load restriction is so significant to oil production because McKenzie County has the largest number of drilling rigs and completions going on.
“Today in McKenzie County, there are 68 rigs,” stated Helms, on Tuesday, Oct. 15. “That is twice the number of rigs in any other county, so that will have the largest impact of anything.”
With the mandatory load restriction, rigs essentially become stationary until the load restriction is lifted, which according to Helms, is not as significant for drilling rigs as it is for completion rigs.
“Most of the drilling in McKenzie County is now multi-well pads, so the drilling rigs will more than likely be able to keep operating,” states Helms. “But completion requires the transport of heavy casings, etc.”
According to Helms, the only exemptions that were granted were for a couple of wells that had been fracked and were in the middle of flowback,” states Helms. “They were allowed to transport heavy loads of oil and salt water, but there were no other exemptions given. No workover rigs, no oil or salt water, or drilling rigs were moving in McKenzie County during the load restriction enforcement.”
Anderson states that those companies who were granted exemptions were given the ability to move because they promised to fix the roads once they were done.
“We will monitor the roads to make sure they did as they promised,” states Anderson. “We will have to wait and see if the exemptions worked out all right. If we issue exemptions and people keep up their end of the bargain, we could consider doing it again. If they do not, then we may reconsider.”
The rains stopped early in the morning on Tuesday, Oct. 15. But, because the temperatures were cold, Anderson and McKenzie County Emergency Manager Jerry Samuelson decided to keep the load restriction in place until 6 p.m. that evening.
“After it quits raining this time of year, six good hours without traffic is what is needed to heal those roads,” states Anderson. “However, because it was so cold in the morning and the cold weather retains the moisture, we decided to give it until 6 p.m. that evening.”
Though the load restriction period was brief, Helms states matter-of-factly that production will be impacted.
“October is usually dry and sunny, with relatively warm days and cool nights. That is why we love to hunt pheasants in October,” states Helms. “It is also why there is usually a lot of drilling and completion activity in October. But that is not happening this year.”
Helms states there will also be a lingering effect from the load restrictions that could impact production totals from October through the end of the year.
“This is a prime time of year to move large earth moving equipment and build pads and roads for winter drilling,” states Helms. “All that has now been slowed by the rain and road closures.”
For the most part, Anderson states that operators adhered to the mandatory load restriction.
“Some felt the Monday morning restrictions were tough to comply with, because guys were already on the road,” states Anderson. “Some tickets were issues, but most did their best to follow the load restrictions.”
According to Anderson, most of the production is occurring north of Watford City, and that is where most of the road damage is located.