Cortez Journal

Babbitt: Gas company has nothing to fear

June 6, 2000

By Janelle Holden
Journal Staff Writer

When Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt called the president of Kinder Morgan CO2 last spring, he caught Tim Bradley by surprise.

"Frankly, I was a little bit sleepy," said Bradley. "And then I heard a woman say, ‘Please hold for Secretary Bruce Babbitt,’ and I thought it was a joke until I heard Secretary Babbitt come on the line and say, "Mr. Bradley, I want you to know that we have just completed a tour of your facilities [McElmo Dome] and it is one of the finest CO2 operations I have ever seen."

Bradley said that Babbitt went on to explain that the U.S. Interior Department was considering recommending designating the McElmo Dome area to the president for national monument status. McElmo Dome, an area of west of Cortez, is where Kinder Morgan CO2 is currently extracting carbon dioxide.

"He said, ‘You should not be impacted by what we’re thinking about doing,’" said Bradley.

From Bradley’s perspective, Kinder Morgan CO2 has little to worry about. "My view is that the requirements to get a drilling permit may change or evolve, but we intend to participate with the BLM in drafting the management plan," he said.

John Wright, a spokesman for Babbitt, said that Kinder Morgan may not have to worry about a new permit system for further development.

"To my knowledge, that [permit] process will stay the same," said Wright. Speculative drilling, however, will not be allowed under the proposed new monument status. "In other words, they can only drill where there are known resources," he said.

Chuck Fox, vice president of Kinder Morgan C02, said that this is good news for the company. Fox said the CO2 is contained within an underground reservoir that the company has tapped into from various locations.

"It’s like locking the barn door after the horse is already out," he said. "We’ve worked under the existing regulations for the past 25 years, and if there are no changes with those, then we’ll be very happy."

He said that the company does not need to do any speculative drilling to develop the CO2 within McElmo Dome. "The productive extent of the CO2 reservoir is already fully leased."

The company has been worried about the designation, however, despite Babbitt’s promises. They are currently planning to develop two new permitted wells, one on private, and one on BLM land this summer, even though the company does not currently need these wells in operation, said Bob Clayton, field supervisor for the McElmo Dome Unit.

Kinder Morgan and Exxon Mobile own 89 percent of the leases in the McElmo Dome unit. The company employs 24 local employees and accounts for about 30 percent of Montezuma county’s tax base. They also account for 50 percent of Empire Electric’s business.

Currently, 700 million cubic feet of CO2 is being extracted per day from the reservoir. The company estimates that there is about ten trillion cubic feet of CO2 still available in the reservoir.

Carbon dioxide from McElmo Dome is piped to oil fields in Texas where the gas mixes with oil trapped in rock pores and mobilizes the oil to the surface. Because of carbon dioxide, the Wasson oil field in Texas now has an estimated 30 more years of productivity.

Currently, there are more than 40 wells developed under the lease. Each well is permitted by the Bureau of Land Management regulations and must meet archaeological and environmental standards.

Clayton said the company won a Congressional award several years ago for immediately backing away from developing an area of Sand Canyon when pottery was found near one of the proposed sites.

"We operate in a very pristine area, and leave very few footprints," said Clayton.

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