Southwestern Energy to Again Test Brown Dense

by Mark Friedman  on Monday, Aug. 19, 2013 12:00 am  

The Lower Smackover Brown Dense formation is in southern Arkansas and northern Louisiana. This map from Southwestern Energy Production Co. of Houston shows the locations of its wells. (Photo by Southwestern Energy Production Co.)

“Since our investment plans for the foreseeable future are in existing areas of operations ... the limited production coming from our first Brown Dense exploration well does not support its cost and therefore the well was written off,” Cabot CEO Dan O. Dinges said in a 2012 earnings release.

Cabot didn’t return a call for comment.

‘Reasonable Possibility’

Southwestern Energy said in its July application to form an exploratory drilling unit in Columbia County that it believes there is “the reasonable possibility” that drilling at the site would recover oil and gas in “paying quantities.”

Southwestern said it would conduct its test with a vertical oil and gas well, evaluate the results and then move forward with a horizontal well.

But the company realizes it might not be easy.

“There is significant economic and mechanical risk associated with the drilling, completion and production of the subject proposed well because the brown dense interval of the lower Smackover has been sparsely tested in only a few wells in south Arkansas,” said a June 24 affidavit by Ken Fritsche, a geologist who was hired by Southwestern Energy. “There have been no commercial completions in the brown dense in south Arkansas to date.”

Fritsche’s affidavit was included in Southwestern’s application with the Oil & Gas Commission. Fritsche, who is a commissioner at the Arkansas Geological Survey, declined to comment for this story.

Ed Ratchford said it’s still not clear if Southwestern is going to be able to extract oil from the Brown Dense, nor is it clear “if this play is going to work out.”

He said the Brown Dense poses a particular problem: If companies hydraulically stimulate the formation too much during the fracking of oil, they could penetrate a brine water reservoir, which would result in the “watering of your well. So you just end up drilling an $8 million hole in the ground.”

Ratchford said he didn’t know how much brine water was in the Brown Dense, but it was millions of gallons.

“There is quite a bit of science to this,” Ratchford said. “People think you basically just drill a hole in the ground and it’s either there or it’s not. That’s not what we’re talking about here.

“We know that there is oil in that formation,” he said. “Getting it out, being able to recover it is another story.”



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