Hell of a Well

"Sweet," says Otter about Payette's big drill


Either the CEO of Bridge Resources Corp. is incredibly humble or he'd make an excellent poker player. Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, not so much.

"We hit a hell of a big natural gas well," Otter said.

"I can only refer you to our press releases," said Bridge CEO Edward Davies.

Bridge drilled five exploratory wells, resulting in three gas discoveries, according to a June 30 company release.

"These are very carefully edited, and that's all I can say," deadpanned Davies.

"It's a million cubic feet a day, and it's sweet gas," extolled the governor. "And it will go right into the [commercial production] line."

Actually, on this count, Otter may be a bit conservative. A May 25 Bridge statement stated one of the wells tested at a rate of 4.5 million cubic feet per day.

"We've got the momentum," said Bridge Operations Manager Jeff Kirn. When asked if they're ready to put the gas on-line, Kirn grinned and said, "Let me drill five more and I'll tell you."

Given that livestock easily outnumber people in Payette County, natural gas may turn into a cash cow for Bridge, the State of Idaho and Payette landowners. But before anyone confuses the smell of gas with the smell of money, it might help to get a little history lesson.

It was about 11 million years ago when a series of lakes formed across Idaho's stark volcanic landscape. The lakes joined and created ancient Lake Idaho. About two million years ago, the lake drained out through Hells Canyon, leaving behind a dank swampy mess.

"The climate was much wetter then," said Dr. Virginia Gillerman, economic geologist for the Idaho Geological Survey. "The humid, temperate climate manifested swampy areas and organic-rich mud became the precursor of petroleum or gas in the sediment."

Fast forward a couple million years, and Gillerman said Idaho's early pioneers probably used some of the fuel-rich muds for heating and cooking. If you dig deep into Idaho's geological records, you'll find companies like Freemont and Oregon Oil & Gas drilling in Idaho as early as 1903. More than 150 wells were drilled throughout the 20th century, and some of the biggest names in the energy biz soaked hundreds of thousands of dollars into their operations. Chevron, Conoco, Exxon, Shell and Texaco all drilled into Idaho's crust. Not one was commercially viable.

So why try again in 2010?

"It's a lot cheaper to drill here than in the Gulf [of Mexico] or the North Sea," Gillerman said.

And Bridge Resources indeed is shifting its corporate focus from deep sea rigs off Scottish shores to remote acreage in Idaho. Bridge's most recent stockholder update gives "very successful onshore drilling" as a reason to sell its North Sea limited subsidiary and invest more in Idaho operations.

"Absolutely," admits Bridge CEO Davies. "It's certainly based on our success in Idaho."

Davies oversees 12 full-time Bridge employees and scores of consultants. It's a Canadian company, traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange, but headquarters are in Denver, Colo., with other offices in Calgary, Alberta, and Aberdeen, Scotland. Ending its fiscal year in March, Bridge reported revenues from gas and natural gas liquids at $13.8 million with a cash flow of more than $20 million. The financials also indicate more than $1.8 million in Idaho land acquisitions and more than $1.4 million in exploration costs. Those amounts are expected to grow dramatically because now Bridge has another green light.

On the evening of July 8, the monthly meeting of Payette County Planning and Zoning Commission attracted a larger-than-normal audience. The commission of 10 listened to a score of witnesses regarding five separate conditional use permits for new drilling operations, all on private properties in New Plymouth.

At the hearing, Kirn described a typical drilling operation. Ninety-foot-tall towers frame the drilling and usually remain no more than a week. They're lit so that low flying aircraft don't crash into them; this is crop duster country. Then, they drill baby, drill, about 200 feet down, through the region's aquifer, then down further through sand, clay and shale--nearly 2,000 feet of it. Last week, Bridge asked for, and received, permission to drill even further, to as deep as 2,500 feet down. After all that drilling, Bridge will then line the hole with 2 to 4 inches of cement and another 1 to 2 inches of steel piping. It takes about five to seven days to drill a site. And then it's anybody's guess if they're successful.

As for safety, an inspector doesn't stay on site through the entire process but is required to regularly check the "B.O.P." Sound familiar? B.O.P. is a blowout preventer, as in the device that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, leading to the worst environmental disaster in modern history.

"It's incumbent on all companies that we drill as safely as possible," Davies said. "We want to have a totally open relationship with land owners, county and state."

So, given the success and growing number of drill sites, how well briefed are Idaho lawmakers?

"They're not briefed as often as they should," said Dr. Gillerman. "State agencies have been cut so far back, and they're totally stretched to the max. It's no different than what happened in the Gulf. Not enough eyeballs were watching the process. We don't do anything unless they call us, and they don't call us too often."

But apparently someone is calling the governor, championing the Bridge operations. So, who profits? The state if it has mineral rights. Property owners if they have the rights. Certainly Bridge. In the meantime, look for more activity in what is expected to become the first full-blown commercial gas production in Idaho's history.