Helicopters to lift off for seismic studies
Preliminary use will be a safety test after accident
Carbon-dioxide producer Kinder Morgan has been given the green light for two new wells near Pleasant View, and will start a safety test phase for the use of helicopters for seismic studies in the Cow Canyon area following a crash last July.
“An aviation expert has been brought on board to conduct a safety audit of the helicopter protocols in the field,” said Bill Caver, a Kinder Morgan project manager.
A new helicopter contractor will be used to set up the initial 500 seismic test holes, called heli-portable drilling, and will be under the direct supervision of the aviation and safety expert.
“Based on that performance, and an audit of the company and crews, he will write an evaluation of safety protocols that will be reviewed by Kinder Morgan,” Caver said. “If those standards meet everyone’s goals then a decision will be made” on further use of helicopter-aided seismic studies for the project.
The new contractor has not been named, nor the aviation expert performing the audit.
On July 16, pilot A.J. Blain, of Billings, Mont., Flying Service, was killed after his Bell UH-1H Iroquois crashed at a remote drilling construction site southeast of Dove Creek. No one else was seriously injured.
Blain was hauling portable drilling rigs as part of a seismic crew that sets off underground explosives to create an underground 3-dimensional map of geologic features.
An initial investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board reported July 24 that the accident occurred during a basket drop of equipment. Blain overshot the intended drop site, and the basket load impacted the ground with the 150-foot haul line falling onto it.
At about the same time, the helicopter began a series of abrupt maneuvers and subsequently impacted the ground in a steep left bank, according to the report.
Kinder Morgan and subcontractor Tidelands Geophysical Company halted all use of helicopters for it’s seismic work in the Doe Canyon study area.
That seismic study was completed without air support, according to Tidelands CEO Wayne Whitner. It will restart on a limited basis in the Cow Canyon seismic study area now underway.
“There will be even more equipment testing than the strict protocols already in place,” he said.
Helicopters are a key component for modern seismic studies because they are efficient, can access rugged areas, and are less invasive than back-and-forth truck traffic. Often their use is a requirement by the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service to reduce a project’s impacts on roads and natural or cultural resources.
Geophysical seismic studies use a series of sensors and strategically placed explosives to record underground geology.
Three heli-portable drills rigs are positioned around a target area. Bore holes up to 45 feet deep are inserted with explosives. When the charges go off, pre-set receiver units crisscrossing the target area pick up sonar echoes from below, and data are captured onto a computer. The receivers are collected and loaded onto the chopper into huge bags, and the heli-portable rigs are flown to the next location.
It is not uncommon for up to three helicopters to leap frog each other carrying the portable drilling rigs to different positions.
For the Cow Canyon proposal, documents show 27,000 receiver positions, and 20,000 source locations are planned. A combination of specialized-seismic vibration trucks, and explosives drilled by heli-portable rigs create the underground 3-D image.
“It is the number one technology right now,” said Bob Clayton, a Kinder Morgan community representative during a Montezuma County Commission meeting.
“The 3-D image is very beneficial, it is like having eyes underground showing where the rock is more porous and capable of sustaining good production.”
The county approved a high-impact permit last week for Kinder Morgan to construct two carbon-dioxide assessment wells on Cahone Mesa.
“Kinder Morgan has been unable to keep up with the current demands for its delivery of CO2 into west Texas,” Clayton said. “The need to drill additional wells is the only way we have at this time to meet this demand.”
A compressor station will be built on Kinder Morgan property on County Road BB to deliver the gas through existing pipelines.
Both wells are within the McElmo Dome Unit, where Kinder Morgan holds all of the deep mineral leases. The McElmo Dome Unit consists of more than 200,000 acres.
A temporarily abandoned well will be used for a down hole pressure measurement well for the project. The second of the two wells will be drilled along County Road 10 on property owned by Walter Henes.
Road use for construction will include county roads BB, CC, 10, 9, 8, and possibly several more as this project expands. The Pleasant View school is near the truck route, so crews will be scheduled to operate when kids are in school, and speed limits will be reduced to 5 mph in the school zone areas.
During construction for these two wells 300 belly dump loads of gravel for access road and well location will be delivered. This will be followed by a drilling rig move consisting of 45 rig-move trucks.
KM policy requires all large trucks to obey a 25 mph speed, complete stops at all controlled intersections, no use of engine brakes between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. and to show courtesy to neighbors. The rules are strictly enforced and offenders are given two strikes before removal from the project, according to planning documents.
The scheduled start date for this project is November, 2013.