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Developments in deep-drilling for natural gas present serious challenges to those who still maintain “Fossil-Fuel” theories as to the origin of complex hydrocarbon fuels.
The Western world’s record for deep-well natural-gas exploration and production is held by the GHK Company in Oklahoma. From 1972 through 1974, the company engineered and drilled two Oklahoma natural-gas commercial wells at depths greater than 30,000 feet (approximately 5.7 miles) – the No. 1-27 Bertha Rogers well (total depth 31,441 feet) and the No. 1-28 E.R. Baden well, both located in the Anadarko Basin, and east-west trending basin in West-Central Oklahoma.
Since the company’s founding, GHK reports drilling and operating 193 wells, the majority of which are below 15,000 feet, without experiencing a blowout. GHK’s success ratio for all drilling operations, including wildcat exploratory drilling, from 1995 to 2005 has been 82 percent.
A study conducted by Mark Snead, Ph.D., the director of the Center for Applied Economic Research at the Spears School of Business at Oklahoma State University, documents that commercially successful deep-well drilling for natural gas in Oklahoma has been proven beyond a doubt by experience in Oklahoma:
Oklahoma has long played an important role in the development of deep drilling. The first hole drilled below 30,000 feet for commercial production purposes was completed in Beckham County in 1972 …
The Anadarko Basin has historically been one of the most prolific natural gas producing regions in the United States and is the location of most of the deep wells in Oklahoma. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 20 percent of the holes drilled deeper than 15,000 feet prior to 1991 are located in the Anadarko Basin, exceeding the number of deep wells in all drilling regions in the U.S. other than the Gulf of Mexico in the period. Through 1998, 19 of the 52 existing ultra deep wells below 25,000 feet were drilled in the Anadarko Basin.
Through 2002, the Potential Gas Committee reports that a total of 1,221 producing deep wells were completed in Oklahoma at an average depth of 17,584 feet, with 775 of these wells currently active.
The success with deep-drilling of natural-gas resources has been experienced across the United States:
The overall success rate of deep wells has been remarkably good. In a sample of 20,715 deep wells drilled in the U.S. through December 1998, 11,522 (56 percent) are classified as producing gas and/or oil wells, with gas wells comprising nearly 75 percent of producing wells. Of the 1,676 wells exceeding 20,000 feet, 974 (58 percent) are producing wells of which 847 are gas wells.
Dr. Snead reported that important technological advances have facilitated the ultra-deep drilling of natural gas wells. The average time to reach a depth of 17,000 feet for two East Texas deep wells drilled in the same structure reduced from 170 days to 70 days in the 17 years between 1985 and 2002. Moreover, advances in computer technology have produced breakthroughs in reservoir modeling that “enable better estimates of the size and location of recoverable deposits.”
Many “Peak-Production” theorists appear today to be ready to abandon the “Fossil-Fuel” theory of oil’s origin, as long as they are yet able to argue that we are going to run out of hydrocarbon fuels in just a few years from now. Still, the common wisdom remains that natural gas, like oil, is a “fossil fuel.” For those who have any doubt that the “Fossil-Fuel” theory is the politically correct version of the origin of natural gas, the Energy Information Agency’s “Energy for Kids” page explains how millions of years ago the remains of plants and animals decayed into organic material that became trapped in rocks until pressure and heat changed some of this organic material into coal, oil and natural gas.
Realizing the potential for the deep-well drilling of natural gas, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy established a “Deep Trek” program to lower the cost and improve the efficiency of drilling commercially productive deep wells. “Deep Trek” maintains its “Office of Fossil Energy” bias despite describing deep-well natural-gas drilling as needing to penetrate rock structures that sound more like bedrock than sedimentary layers:
Tapping into this resource will be both technologically daunting and expensive. For wells deeper than 15,000 feet, as much as 50 percent of drilling costs can be spent in penetrating the last 10 percent of a well’s depth. The rock is typically hot, hard, abrasive, and under extreme pressure. Often, in deeper wells, it is not uncommon for the drill bit to slow to only two to four feet per hour at operating costs of tens of thousands of dollars a day for a land rig and millions of dollars a day for deep offshore formations. And it is exceedingly difficult to control the precise trajectory of a well when the drill bit is nearly three miles below the surface.
In Japan, gas has been produced from granite at a depth of 4,300 meters (2.7 miles). Those who doubt that natural gas can be found in bedrock structures should visit the website of Teikoku Oil, a Japanese company that has developed drilling equipment specifically designed to explore for natural gas in and below bedrock levels.
Even those who might stretch to argue that even if no dinosaurs ever died in sedimentary rock that today lies 30,000 feet below the surface, might still argue that those levels contain some type of biological debris that has transformed into natural gas. That argument, a stretch at 30,000 feet down, is almost impossible to make for basement structure bedrock. Japan’s Nagaoka and Niigata fields produce natural gas from bedrock that is volcanic in nature. What dinosaur debris could possibly be trapped in volcanic rock found at deep-earth levels?
Deep-earth natural gas strongly supports the theory that the origin of oil is abiotic, not organic in nature. Moreover, natural gas is being found abundantly at deep-earth levels around the world – so much so that the deep-earth discoveries of natural gas are increasing worldwide natural gas reserve estimates to the point where “Peak-Production” theories are being challenged as well. But that will have to be the subject of another column.