Three energy companies were several years into the federal approval process for a natural gas field in central Wyoming when drilling results showed the need to scrap the plan and propose a much larger project.

The new plans doubled the size of the field and tripled the number of wells.

The three companies, EnCana Oil & Gas, Noble Energy and ConocoPhillips, will soon submit a development plan for a 4,200-well field — known as the Moneta Divide — to federal officials.

“We essentially had to start over,” EnCana spokesman Randy Teeuwen said. “We had to reset the clock on it.”

Teeuwen expects it will take three years for the companies to get the federal OK, which will kick off a 15-year development period for EnCana. The wells drilled in the area will likely produce for decades, opening up hundreds of jobs and contributing to Wyoming’s place as a top natural gas producer.

The new plan

Noble Energy and ConocoPhillips are joining EnCana in plans to develop the Moneta Divide field. EnCana will drill 3,600 wells on 148 square miles of the project, while Noble will drill 450 wells and ConocoPhillips will drill 150, according to Jon Kaminsky, assistant field manager at the U.S. Burea of Land Management field office in Lander.

EnCana and the other two companies will submit a development plant to BLM officials within a few weeks, Teeuwen said. Tom Doll, superintendent of the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said EnCana representatives will sit down with commission staff members next week to discuss the project.

EnCana will use directional drilling, natural gas-powered drilling rigs, liquid gathering systems and the “best available technology” to protect air quality at the project, Teeuwen said.

“We believe the Moneta Divide Project has great potential to produce natural gas and provide jobs, but we are very early in the process and years away from full development and production,” he said. “We are in Wyoming for the long haul, and Moneta Divide is a longterm development project for us.”

Old plan scrapped

Encana and its fellow companies involved in the project were set to drill for gas in the Moneta area a few years ago. That project, known as the Gun Barrel, Madden Deep and Iron Horse project, would have involved drilling 1,470 new gas wells, adding to the nearly 500 wells already in the area.

EnCana, Noble and ConocoPhillips subsidiary Burlington Resources Oil and Gas Co. submitted the development plan for the 228 square-mile project in early 2008.

But the project didn’t advance after the BLM held a handful of public meetings and produced a report detailing the comments and concerns. The companies seemed to have difficulty gathering information about the project and kept changing their plans, said Chris Krassin, natural resource specialist for the BLM in Lander.

“It just never really got off the ground,” Krassin told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Big addition

The new plan is a big boost for Wyoming’s natural gas industry, which ranks second behind only Texas for domestic natural gas production, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

EnCana has another project in Wyoming that would add to the state’s production totals. The proposed Normally Pressured Lance Field in the Green River Basin would add 3,500 wells to the state’s numbers. EnCana would be the lead operator in the field, as it is in the adjacent Jonah Field.

The Normally Pressured Lance Field would double in a decade the number of gas wells drilled in the Upper Green River Basin to date. The basin’s Jonah and Pinedale Anticline fields ranked fifth and sixth, respectively, in the United States for gas production in 2009.

The Moneta Divide’s planned wells would bring to nearly 21,000 the number of wells in proposed new natural gas developments in the state now under review by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

“It’s really encouraging,” the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s Doll said. “It’s an area they’ve been developing and it’s an area that they’ll invest an awful lot of money and hopefully they’ll be able to have some successes.”

Field means jobs

The wells will be drilled into a 414 square-mile area between Casper and Shoshone near Lysite, crossing the border of Fremont and Natrona counties, although Teeuwen said it’s too early to know how many wells will be drilled in either county.

But the well field is likely to create a lot of jobs and spark the economies of nearby cities, including Casper.

“It really bodes well for the state, because it’ll be based out of Casper, so that’s a lot of employment opportunities,” Doll said.

While EnCana program manager Paul Ulrich told the Wyoming Business Report the field could require 600 to 700 jobs during developement and 300 to 400 jobs during production, Teeuwen backed away from any specific job numbers.

“There will be significant employment possibilities,” he said. “But it’s important to keep in mind this is several years away.”

Growth for plant?

ConocoPhillips owns and operates a natural gas processing plant at Lost Cabin, which is near the Moneta Divide project site.

The plant processes gas from the company’s nearby wells, which are drilled deep — down to four and five miles under the surface. That gas is known as “sour” gas because it contains hydrogen sulfide, which must be stripped out before the gas can be used.

It’s uncertain if the new field would mean more business for the Lost Cabin plant.

Teeuwen said EnCana’s wells will drill down between 9,000 and 10,000 feet, with some going slightly deeper, but most of the gas produced at that level isn’t sour. ConocoPhillips didn’t respond to a Star-Tribune request for comment Tuesday.

Star-Tribune capital bureau reporter Jeremy Pelzer contributed to this article.

Reach Jeremy Fugleberg at 307-266-0623 or jeremy.fugleberg@trib.com. Read his blog at http://trib.com/news/opinion/blogs/boom/ and follow him on Twitter: @jerenegy.

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