FLASHBACK: DEEP WELL GAS DREAMS - Still Resting In The Stars, Calhoun Rests On Rich Deposits



By Bob Weaver 2002

Years have passed since one of West Virginia's first experimental wells was drilled at Mount Zion, Calhoun County. Local residents remember the secrecy when Exxon and their partners and erected the giant rig between Route 16 and Pine Creek.

Even more memorable was the companies denial of hitting gas, thus lowering expectations.

Local residents remember explosive booms from the site, knocking pictures from the wall. The nearly two year project, reaching deep in the earth 20,000 feet, was essentially declared a dry hole. Few believed the denials.

The search for potential deep well sites in Calhoun appears to have peaked with about 200 locations. The county has been a hotbed of research for the past three years, the County Clerk's record room filled with elbow-to-elbow abstractors. The room is empty now.

Seismic earth thumpers and high-tech researchers strung miles of lines and connected hundreds of devices, covering every inch of the county, prognosticating where the best pockets might be. Hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe millions, have been spent "looking."

Sitting without connection to the outside world, Calhoun's first deep wells sit idly near Nobe Road and on Route 5 near Grantsville. No announcement has been made regarding their status, but some reports say they did not turn out well.

Some drillers say they were too cautious, drilling "overbalanced." The mud suspension which is used to keep the gas from blowing out may have gotten into the formation, sealing off the supply. The Ardent project on Rt. 16 was reportedly doing well, but something happened toward the end of drilling, although it is unconfirmed.

Conflicts reportedly surfaced between some local holders and Ardent over drilling boundaries and rights, and the project was interrupted by a major land side on the edge of the Ardent site above Route 5.

Few comments are heard about the Ike Morris-Cabot well near Nobe, although some local residents are concerned about clean-up and restoration.

The Big Otter well off Route 16 in Clay, south of I-79, appears to be another story. Insider information declares it a big winner. The Columbia Natural Resources project, unofficially, has been producing 40-80 million cubic feet of gas a day, with 7,000 pound rock pressure.

If this information could be verified, the discovery is spectacular.

The Clay well is located on Dead Fall Run, near the home of the late folk musician Jenes Cottrell. If alive, he would surely compose a tune about the monster rig and mountain people.

Columbia is said to be drilling about 22 wells in Roane County during the next year, half shale wells and half deep wells. The company is reportedly doing an off-set well near their first big discovery, the Parker well on Vineyard Ridge. Others are located near the Roane-Calhoun line.

Regionally, it seems there are six to eight deep wells that are major producers, but there could be more. Drilling has been focused in Roane, Jackson, Braxton, Calhoun and Clay counties.

Is there a cooling down on deep well drilling? Maybe, for a while. There are great reserves of natural gas in this region, possibly one of the world's greatest deposits. Development will come.

What it means to our citizens is another story.

Layers of laws and regulations surround deep well drilling, many of them open to interpretation. It is questionable what benefits our rural communities might receive from this "boom."

Understanding tax methods becomes difficult when production numbers are held back for about two years. Some researchers say discrepancies in values is a problem, metering stations several miles from wells being the "point of sale," mixing producing wells, along with the longevity and depletion rates.

Historians who have studied the extraction of energy and natural products from West Virginia, conclude the richest areas have received the least benefit, poor roads, infrastructure and residual joblessness.

The greatest pockets of poverty are above the greatest resources.

John O'Brien's new Pulitzer-nominated book "At Home in the Heart of Appalachia" defines Appalachia's legacy, victims of rapacious greed and exploitation.

A sad and painful tale, never-ending.

The Calhoun Commission and the Board of Education, passed a resolution asking for a fair shake with deep well drilling.

It asked for "fairness in taxation on the production of deep well drilling," or what citizens could reasonably expect to be returned to the community. It asked, government and developers to consider "our rights and needs."

Such desires and wishes may only rest in the stars.