Several poor-performing gas wells north of Narraguinnep Reservoir are being plugged.
In 2009, the Bill Barrett Corp. installed wildcat wells on private land north of Road X to tap natural gas trapped in the Gothic shale formation 6,000 to 8,000 feet underground.
But poor results forced the company to abandon the project and go through the plugging procedure, said Steve Labowskie, field inspector for the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission.
"The economics were not there to make it worthwhile," he said. "We're overseeing the plugging operation to make sure it is done thoroughly."
There are several reasons why a natural gas well is abandoned, said Pam Leschak, a BLM oil and gas specialist.
It could be that the well drew up too much produced water, a brackish liquid trapped in deep underground pockets. The saltwater is leftover from when the area was an inland sea more than 100 million years ago.
"If there is too much water, separating it from the gas and paying to dispose of it decreases profitability," Leschak said. "Shale wells typically produce in the beginning then decline sharply in production."
Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," was used on at least one of the wells, officials said. The controversial process injects a mixture of sand, water and chemicals into tight rock formations deep underground to release hydrocarbons trapped there.
Lack of a market can also play into whether a gas well is successful. If there is no buyer, then building pipelines to deliver it is impractical. Productive gas fields in the San Juan Basin south of Durango are dominating the natural gas market.
Too close to dam
Ellen Foster, a local oil-and-gas watchdog, advised Montezuma County commissioners to be wary of a proposed oil and gas lease near McPhee Dam.
"Horizontal drilling can travel for miles, and the lease is within a half-mile of the dam," she said last Monday.
She suggested that the county push for a buffer zone to prevent drilling near the dam. Geologic studies should be done, Foster added, to determine whether fault lines near the dam could be destabilized because of drilling.
"Drilling so close to the dam is too risky, and threatens our entire economy," Foster said.