“We’ve Got Hydrocarbons”

The moon breaks through the clouds late Saturday night as the drilling continues at the Milford Colony well in Lewis & Clark County. Sun Times photos by Darryl L. Flowers
By Darryl L. Flowers
Published: Monday, September 23, 2013 5:46 PM CDT

The first phase of drilling the Milford Colony  13-11 well in Lewis and Clark County ended Monday afternoon when the drillbit reached “TD,” or total depth. “I feel good about the well. It feels good to have something drilled.” said Glen Landry, a geologist and the President and CEO of Norstra Energy.

The drilling rig reached 850 feet, believed to be in the Two Medicine Formation. Landry examined the cuttings under a stereoscope and recorded the characteristics of the rock. Next to the stereoscope was a light box, used to check for fluorescence, a sign of oil. Landry, with a grin, reported “We’ve got hyrdocarbons.”

In a conversation with Joe Large, President of RPM Geologic, Landry explained that the driller had found several “oil shows.” “We had shows of oil at 309 to 367 feet, 428 feet and at 521 feet we found a red shale layer that produced blooming cut when put into a chemical.” Landry explained to the Sun Times that these oil shows are not an indicator of commercial quantities, “But the oil has to come from somewhere.” Landry thinks the oil may have migrated from the Cone Formation or the Bakken Formation. Both are found throughout the region.

The oil found in the cuttings was a heavy oil, degraded from a light crude over time by exposure to water.

The drilling got underway early Friday afternoon when Faith Drilling Rig #5, a small “single section” rig began boring a wide, shallow hole a few feet from the actual well location. The hole is known as a “rathole,” and is used to store the drillbit as drillpipe sections are being added or removed from the well. As the drillbit bores through the rock, going lower and lower, sections of steel pipe have to be added. The pipe is hollow, allowing drilling “mud” to circulate down the pipe and through holes on the drillbit. The mud cools and lubricates the bit. As the water is pushed down the pipe by powerful pumps, the cuttings-laden fluid exits out the hole by flowing up the outside of the pipe.

After the rathole was completed, the crew from Faith Drilling swapped to a small bit to drill a pilot hole. The pilot hole would serve as a guide for a huge 17 inch bit that drilled the conductor pipe, a large steel pipe that would guide the bit as it first bites into the rock.

Late Friday night Glen Landry sat in his truck watching the drill rig. He was impatient, but excited. The bit could not go fast enough, but he was glad to see a start to the South Sun River Project.

With cement trucks at the ready, the bit was pulled out and Faith Drilling owner Doug Bruner supervised the crew as the long conductor pipe was positioned to be driven into the hole. Landry was nervous.

“I hope the hole doesn’t collapse.” At the top of the well site, just like most of the area, there is a lot of glacial debris, rocks that were worn smooth form being ground under the enormous weight of the glaciers that carved though the region. If the rocks fall into the hole, the drill crew will have to run the bit back down, “reaming” the hole for another try.

The conductor pipe is hoisted above the rig floor and lowered smoothly into position. Now the trucks begin mixing the cement to seal the pipe. Once in place, the cement will cure overnight.

By Saturday afternoon, the drilling process has settled into a routine. A slow routine. The pipe sinks slowly into the Rocky Mountain Front, tiny bits of rock coming out of the shaker, a device that removes the cuttings from the drilling mud.

The crew preps a pipe section for insertion into the drill string. It’s going to be a while before the pipe is needed. The crew, though, stays busy. They check the mix of the drilling mud, making sure it has the right consistency. They check the many humming diesels that drive the rig, the pumps, the generators. There is always something to do.

Finally, as the last streams of sunset find cracks in the clouds, the drill has gone as deep as it can. It’s time to add another section. Rig hands head to the drilling floor and begin the process to lengthen the drillstring. There is a change in the sounds of the diesel engines as the bit slows down and comes to a stop.

A Kelly rig is old school drilling. A Kelly bushing, on the rig floor, turns the Kelly, a square pipe that connects to the pipe and the bit. Newer rigs, especially the larger ones, use a “top drive.”

“For drilling the surface casing, I like the Kelly rig,” says Landry. “They seem to drill a straighter hole.

Landry must be right. While in the “doghouse,” or rig office, a small building located a few steps form the drill floor, I watch as Doug Bruner’s crew uses a device to measure just how straight the hole is. The device is lowered into the hole and punches two tiny holes in a circle of paper smaller than a quarter. One hole is punched, then the device turns slightly. A second hole is punched. Bruner shows the paper through a special viewer. It’s easy to make out a center dot, then several concentric circles. The first circle has two barely noticeable punch holes. “You want to see both of those holes at an equal distance from the center point,” explains Bruner. “That means both the readings are equal, so you have an accurate measurement of the deviation of the hole.”

The two holes are on the innermost of the circles. When the measuring device hit the bottom it registered that there was 1 degree of deviation from a straight-down hole. “That’s just a little more than one foot variation from a perfect vertical,” says Joe Large.

The Milford well is located on property belonging to the Milford Hutterite Colony. Milford was the first colony in the state of Montana. Each day, there was a steady stream of Hutterites walking to the drill site, which was across Highway 287 form the colony.

“Do you think they will find oil?” the Hutterites ask when they see me on the site. On Saturday evening it seems that most of the colony has come out to check the well’s progress. The men gather in a group, the women in another. Teenagers and younger kids congregate in another area.

Two of the Hutterite men walk over as I shoot photos of the rig hand “tripping the bit.” As the men talk about the rig, some youngsters gather around, pointing to the rig and discussing the situation in German.

As I move closer to the rig to get some close-up photos of the rig hands, the Hutterite women walk over and talk about working on an oil rig. “Those are some hard workers,” one of the young ladies comments, nodding toward the raised floor where the crew are working. “It looks like a tough job.”

One of the Hutterite women asks, “Have you ever worked on an oil rig.”

“No,” I reply. “But it is tempting.”


Author: montanaoilreport

After my first job at a newspaper -- delivering papers for the Jackson (TN) Sun, ink was in my veins. Since the 1970's I've worked in every area of the Printing and Publishing industry, with most of that time spent in the pressroom. In 2008 I moved to Montana and purchased the Sun Times of Fairfield (fairfieldsuntimes.com). In 2011 I realized that most media outlets were either ignoring, or attacking, the growing oil and gas industry in Montana, so I started the Montana Oil Report as the source of information on this important industry.

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