AUGUSTA – As the Sun began to set south of Augusta last week, a group began to gather in a stubble field on the Milford Colony, just north of Bowman’s Corner.
The members of the Milford Colony were joined by Ben Chu, with BNV Energy Company LLC and Lorne Krone, a nearby rancher.
Ben Chu is the operator of the gas/oil well drilled on the Milford Colony in 2014, the BNV Eagle 1.
As reported in the Sun Times while the well was being drilled three years ago, the drillbit encountered both oil and gas.
Over the past three years, Ben Chu has been coming up to Montana from his home in Texas to conduct further work on the well, testing each potentially productive horizon.
Last year, a small “workover” rig was brought in to do more work, and testing, on the Eagle 1.
Several times prior to last year’s workover, the gas coming out of the well was ignited, resulting in a short-lived, small flame.
Last week, when everyone arrived for the informal test, Ben and members of the Milford Colony set to work assembling sections of pipe that would conduct the gas away from the wellhead. Ben would control the main valves at the wellhead, while a valve installed near the end of the pipe allowed secondary control.
At 6:53 p.m., Ben Chu barely “cracked” the main valve open. At the other end, one of the Colony members used a propane torch to ignite the flame. It took several tries, but once the flame was lit, using a small flow of gas, the flames burned with no color. The only way to confirm that there was a flame was to observe the heat as it blurred the rolling plains in the background.
Once the flame was established, Ben tired opening the valve just a bit more. As he did, the fire at the end of the pipe went from a lazy, invisible flame, to a roaring jet of fire. As the valve was opened, it pushed the fireball further and further from the end of the pipe. Eventually, the gas was coming out with such a force that the flame was extinguished. When the gas came out of the pipe, there was no odor – not even a hint of a petroleum smell. According to Ben, the lack of odor might indicate that the gas is primarily methane – or natural gas.
Natural gas piped into our homes has an odor, but that smell is not natural – since methane is odorless, a chemical – mercaptan – is added to give it that rotten-egg smell.
The flame burned for a little over half an hour, then settled into a flame that about the equivalent of a couple of “eyes” on a gas cook stove.
As everyone left the site, the flame was left to burn, but overnight a wind gust blew it out. At 8:30 the next morning, the flare was re-lit and continued to burn.
Joe Large, the geologist who worked on the well when it was drilled, watched a video of the flare recorded by the Sun Times and commented that it was an impressive flare for a shallow well, “especially in an unproven area.”
Ben Chu is cautiously optimistic about the well. “We still have a couple of steps to go through” before we know if the well is capable of commercial production. Ben told the Sun Times that there is about 1,000 feet of water in the well. The weight of that water is constraining the flow of gas out of the well. Additionally, water trapped within the rock of the producing formation restricts the flow of the gas from the rock into the well bore.
Ben explains that water, by itself, flows easily through the porous rock. Gas, by itself, also flows easily through the rock, but when oil and gas both are present, neither flows well.
As water is removed from the well, the formation will lose its water and as the flow of water decreases, the flow of gas will increase.
After the flare test, Ben traveled to the Montana Board of Oil & Gas Conservation in Shelby where he researched the well logs of the Milford Colony 1, a well that was drilled on the Milford Colony in 1955 by Carl Yandt and the Crescent Oil Company of LaCrosse, Wisconsin. He also researched the logs of some of the wells drilled by Anschutz Exploration. Based on what Ben found in those files, he told the Sun Times that he is “confident” that the gas is coming from the Blackleaf Formation.
Geologist Bill Hansen said that the Blackleaf is from the Cretaceous geologic period. “If this well is capable of commercial production, from the Cretaceous Blackleaf Formation, it will be the first well to produce from the Cretaceous along the Montana Overthrust Belt.”
Ben plans to do additional work on the well later this year.