Environment

A state commission that rarely meets will hold a public hearing this week on the first potential permit for deep horizontal natural gas drilling in Kentucky.

A company called Horizontal Technology Energy Company is proposing a deep horizontal well in Johnson County, Kentucky. The company is an offshoot of the Pittsburgh-based energy giant EQT, and its interest in the area suggests that more operators could soon begin arriving to drill.

The permit in question would drill into the Conasauga Group, which is part of the Rogersville Shale formation. Last month, WFPL reported on increased interest and speculation in the Rogersville Shale, which lies under much of Eastern Kentucky and extends into West Virginia.

Several test wells have already been drilled into the shale. Those wells were drilled vertically, and require only a permit from the Kentucky Division of Oil and Gas. But division director Kim Collings said state regulations require additional steps for wells that are drilled horizontally.

“For horizontal [drilling], because the regulations say that an operator can not deviate from vertical without permission of the commission, and horizontal is technically a deviation, that’s why we have to have the commissioners involved to approve this permit application,” she said.

When operators drill for natural gas horizontally, they drill down deep into the earth, then begin traveling laterally into the formation. In this case, Horizontal Technology Energy Company is proposing what’s known as a “wildcat horizontal well.” This means it’s a deep well that’s drilled at least 25,000 feet from another deep well. Collings said wildcat wells are generally used as test wells, for operators to determine whether the area will be profitable and if so, the best method for producing the natural gas.

Collings said operators will be looking for answers to questions like “If this shale has potential, is it better to produce it vertically or horizontally?

“With a horizontal well, there’s going to be considerably more cost to drill it. Is there considerably more profit to make up for those costs?”

Horizontal Technology Energy Company, LLC is the official name of the operator that applied for the permit. The company is registered under that name in Kentucky, but the company’s state business filing is signed by EQT Corporate Secretary Nicole King Yohe (who is incidentally also an Oldham County native). EQT’s communications director didn’t return a request for comment.

The public meeting on Wednesday will mark the first time the Kentucky Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has met since December, 2006. There are five commissioners; four are appointed by the governor, and Collings is a fifth, ex-officio member. Other members include Louisville attorney Scott Barber, retired engineer Oda Inglis from Earlington, Paintsville engineer Dewey Bocook, and NGAS Production Company President Donald Michael Wallen, of Lexington.

There are also updated regulations for oil and gas production in Kentucky under consideration in the General Assembly. The bill—which was crafted with input from the industry, environmental groups and state regulators –has yet to clear the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee.

A group of concerned landowners in the area has already formed, objecting to the possibility of large-scale natural gas drilling in the Rogersville Shale. If the shale is tapped, the wells would be the deepest ever drilled in Kentucky, and would require hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Fracking uses a mix of millions of gallons of water and chemicals, and has been linked to environmental and health problems in some areas.

The public meeting on the proposed horizontal drilling in Johnson County is  1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 25,  at the Division of Oil and Gas office (1025 Capital Center Drive in Frankfort).

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL. She is also Enterprise Editor.