Environment

A state commission is considering allowing Kentucky’s first horizontal deep well for natural gas. The commission met yesterday for the first time since 2006, and heard a brief testimony from the company interested in drilling the well. But the commissioners asked no questions, and members of the public who attended were limited to questions about the company’s brief testimony.

The Kentucky Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is required to sign off on any oil and gas permits that deviate from the traditional deep vertical wells, like the proposal from Horizontal Technology Energy Company. If it’s approved, this would be the first horizontal deep natural gas well in Kentucky.

Earlier this week, we reported:

“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. [Kentucky Oil and Gas Division Director Kim] 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 is affiliated with energy giant EQT, and was represented by George Heflin of EQT at the meeting yesterday. Heflin’s lawyer asked him several simple questions, like the targeted depth of the well (11,200 feet). The commissioners declined to ask Heflin any questions, and two citizens were shut down when they tried to ask Heflin questions about EQT’s environmental record.

Jim Bruggers of The Courier-Journal was at the meeting, and wrote:

The commission members, who have final say on the permit, were not curious in the least bit about the proceedings. None of them asked any questions.

It didn’t help matters that the commission chose a small room only large enough for a single row of chairs around their board table, which forced some in an overflow crowd to listen from a hallway.

After the meeting, which took about 30 minutes, Kentucky Natural Resources Commissioner Steve Hohmann said the citizens should have focused their questions directly on the permit that was up for approval. Instead of a general question about water quality, the question should have asked something specific about any provisions in the permit that dealt with water quality.

When I asked Sloane about that after the meeting, he nodded in agreement.

However, that’s not how some in the audience heard Sloane during the meeting, who had said the cross examination needed to be based on the testimony that was presented by the company, which was very limited.

Residents are concerned about speculation in the Rogersville shale in Eastern Kentucky, where the proposed well would be drilled. If the shale proves profitable, it would be the first time large-scale hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is used in Kentucky. The practice is effective for releasing deep oil and natural gas reserves, but studies have raised questions about fracking’s links to water contamination, health problems and earthquakes. A bill to regulate fracking is moving though the Kentucky General Assembly.

Yesterday’s meeting was videotaped by fracking opponent Sellus Wilder. It’s only 15 minutes long; you can watch the whole video here.