Montana/Dakotas

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Well Pad and Road Disappear without a Trace

by Craig Flentie, Lewistown Field Office
photos by Josh Sorlie

The tract had been leased for oil and gas development and the leaseholder filed an application to drill a wildcat well.

It’s a common scenario across our public lands, and while some leases are more easily developed and restored, others provide many complications.

The proposed site for the 1–33–19 well (public land about five miles northeast of Chinook) was an absolute maze of complications. These badlands, which sit above Battle Creek, a tributary of the Milk River, are a more fragile environment than their name implies.  Highly erosive soils, important visual resources, raptor nesting habitat, crucial big game winter range, paleontological resources, archaeological resources, and extremely delicate vegetative cover were just a few of the values in the mix. 

A host of BLM technical specialists (Josh Sorlie, Jody Peters, Brandi Hecker, Mike Montgomery, Jerry Clark, and Craig Miller) all played important roles in this challenging project. However, because most of the resource values involved in this project “rest upon the soil,” Josh (a BLM soil scientist in Malta) became a key contributor to the group effort.        

Collectively, this group analyzed several alternatives for pad site locations and access routes; added important mitigation measures; and wrote reclamation and monitoring plans that would protect and restore this fragile environment while allowing the lease holder to pursue the right to develop. 

After analyzing these components through the NEPA process several times, these BLM specialists designed a suitable combination of protections and allowances and the well was permitted. 

The project then accelerated from the planning phase to the development phase as the lease holder built an access route, constructed a well pad, and drilled the well. However, like many wildcat wells, the 1-33-19 was a dry-hole.  Within a few months--quicker than most imagined--it was time to test the BLM reclamation plan.   

The enclosed photos highlight how successful well-designed reclamation can be, even in a very delicate environment.    

Congratulations to Josh, Jody, Brandi, Mike, Jerry and Craig for their professionalism in guiding this complicated project to a showcase conclusion.

 view of area before road was built
Pre-disturbance.

view after construction of the road
Taken after construction of the road. BMPs (straw wattles) being installed to capture sediment.

roadbed is hydroseeded
Taken after the well had been drilled. The road corridor was recontoured to blend in with the surround landform, drill seeded using a native mix, and hydromulched to add surface cover and roughness. Additional straw wattles were installed to reduce runoff to control erosion. At a later date, an electric fence was constructed around the reclaimed area to exclude livestock grazing.

vegetation after the first growing season
Taken after the first growing season.
four years later, the road is gone
Taken during the third growing season.