FARMINGTON — While some infrastructure and city roads have been damaged by erosion and washouts related to the recent monsoon rains, the deluge has also had some effect on the dirt roads leading to the more than 100,000 oil and gas wells operating within the San Juan Basin.
For the most part, the oil and gas industry appears to be taking the mucky conditions in stride, with most operators saying that rains have created more difficult driving conditions, but have had little impact on daily operations.
That said, at least one energy company, which has thousands of wells spread through San Juan County, has had to temporarily curtail operations on a few of its well sites.
"The weather has had a small impact on some of our wells in the San Juan Basin," said Jim Lowry, a ConocoPhillips spokesman. "It has restricted access to some of our locations, but we expect to re-start the wells before too long."
Lowry stressed that the impact to the company was very low, and did not impact any jobs.
Jason Sandel, Aztec Well Service's executive vice president, said the roads are definitely sloppy, but those in the business are dealing with it.
"The men and women who work in the energy industry are used to working in difficult conditions," he said. "They're dedicated to delivering energy for America's future."
Sandel said the various well operators are responsible for maintaining roads on BLM and other leased lands. When muddy or snowy conditions exist, the companies will sometimes re-blade the roads or put chains on the tires of the large Class 8 trucks used for well-site work that includes hauling water and equipment, he said.
In addition to these responses to muddy conditions, there may be an industry trend toward taking more proactive measures to minimize the effects of weather on roads that access well sites.
Cole Blevins is a law enforcement ranger with the Bureau of Land Management. Blevins spends much of his day traversing the miles of remote roads that crisscross the northwest New Mexico desert, including roads leading to well sites. Blevins said the BLM is seeing an increase in permit requests by companies wanting to dig drainage ditches along roads, or dig large sand pits so sand can be hauled out to treat the roads, making them less likely to wash out.
"They can dig sand pits in most places," said Blevins. "It's not soft sand, but is sandstone sand that compacts pretty well on the road."
Vigilance and knowledge of how the desert can quickly turn into a muddy mess is the secret to operating in this region, said Susan Alvillar, community affairs representative for WPX Energy. WPX recently announced that it has initiated oil drilling on leased land in the Gallup Sandstone portion of the Mancos Shale formation. Dealing with the mucky conditions after a heavy rainfall is all in a day's work, said Alvillar.
"It's tough operating conditions when you get high degrees of rainfall, and it's similar to operating in snow," she said. "But we're dealing with it. We have to keep people safe, so we watch for high water, are aware of our surroundings, and are aware of the weather. But you can liken us to the postal service; it's just what we deal with and we operate no matter what."