Despite state records, locally oil drills are mostly absent
Drilling rigs haven’t dotted landscapes east of Coalville for decades after oil and gas production began to slump in Summit County.
Today the Uintah Basin tops the list of biggest oil producers in Utah and last year wells in Duchesne County produced 7.6 million barrels of oil, the highest in the state.
But Summit County boasted the second highest oil production in Utah in 2007 at 5.5 million barrels, state Division of Oil, Gas and Mining spokesman Jim Springer said.
"Oil and natural gas are essential to our modern society, without it we don’t function," he said.
Exploring for new oil in Summit County requires digging deep, Springer said.
"Most of what comes out of Summit County comes from existing fields that have been there for quite a while," Springer explained.
Still, last year oil production in Summit County jumped a half-million barrels over 2006, he said.
But new drilling didn’t cause the spike, Springer stressed.
"That increased oil production came from the result of efforts on the part of operators in the existing fields to maximize production. That’s the economics at play. The price of oil was up," he said. "Without having to drill an expensive well they could bring some more oil up using some different techniques that they could do because the price of it would allow them to do those expenditures."
Taxes collected from oil and gas production really helped Summit County when real estate wasn’t selling in the ’70s and ’80s.
"The oil companies came to us years ago and told us it was a declining resource and would gradually decline to the point where they could not produce enough to make it profitable," Summit County Treasurer Glen Thomson explained. "But with the price of oil going to where the price of oil is going, there are production companies that may take a look at wells in the area that are declining to try to get a little bit more out of the ground while the price is higher."
Wells in the Anschutz region in Utah and southwestern Wyoming were largely tapped by petroleum giants in the 1980s, Thompson said.
"Oil was good for Summit County as long as it lasted
," Thompson said. "It kept us going a lot of years."
But it has declined sharply, he lamented.
"The decline in oil production in Summit County is not going to get much better," Thompson said.
The "easy oil" was gone some time ago, he said.
Evanston, Wyo. resident Cathy Seale co-owns Evanston-based Urroz Oil and Gas, which operates four wells in Wyoming within a few miles of Summit County. Shifting geologic plates caused rock layers to stack, which helped create the area east of Coalville known as the Overthrust Belt.
"There is oil here and if they want it bad enough at some point they are going to come and get it," Seale said. "Never say never. It could happen and it depends on your prices and your supply."
But geologic faults complicate oil drilling at Anschutz, she explained.
"It’s very hard to drill and you don’t know what you’re going to get," Seale said. "It costs a lot more to drill a well here."
Heaps of cash were spent exploring for oil at Anschutz in the 1980s, she said.
"During that last boom of the ’80s the oil companies drilled a lot of dry holes," Seale said. "They were just throwing money at these things so I think they are a little more savvy now."
Meanwhile, there were 50 oil rigs operating in Utah the second half of August, which is the most since 1987.
"That tells you that Economics 101 is very much at work — supply and demand. As demand for the resource goes up they look to increase the supply," Springer said.
Record natural gas production
Natural gas production this year hit record highs in Utah when suppliers produced more than 35 billion cubic feet last March.
"Market conditions continue to drive production," Gil Hunt, state associate director for oil and gas, said in a prepared statement. "High prices and increasing demand continue to fuel energy development."
Last year more than 218 billion cubic feet of natural gas was recovered in Uintah County, according to Springer.
"Energy is on a lot of people’s minds because of the cost of gasoline and the cost of natural gas. It’s become more important lately," Springer said.
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