Nestled in the Benton woods sits a 40-acre gas plant site that has been largely forgotten and has been producing less year after year since its heyday in the 1940s to 60…Until now.
The Benton Field was discovered by Barnsdall Oil Company in 1944 and produced a lot of oil and gas. Numerous operators have tried their hand at extracting oil and gas from the field over the decades until it was recently acquired by Empresa Energy IV, LLC from Houston, Texas.
Empresa, a private equity backed exploration company that specializes in prospecting for underdeveloped assets, found potential in the Benton Field and purchased it in early 2016.
Ricky Harris is the vice president of operations for Empresa.
“After doing the technical background work we drilled three new wells in 2017,” Harris explained. “There had been a number of vertical wells drilled in this field before we acquired it. Our plans were to drill horizontal wells which generally speaking produce better than vertical wells.”
After the first three wells showed promise, Harris and his crew shut down the operation to formulate their plan moving forward. The company is now in a transitional period between “discovery” and “development.” The next step is “delineation” where more outer edges of the zone will be drilled and tested as well as some additional infield drilling.
Harris says that Empresa plans on drilling four to 10 new wells over the next year or so before either committing to full blown field development or selling the project to a larger company.
The Press-Tribune reported in June about the possibility of Empresa purchasing water for the hydraulic fracturing process from Cypress Lake. While that negotiation did not come to fruition, it is still open for more negotiations. In the meantime the project will need to go on with alternative sources of water.
“It’s high on our list of things that need to get done and we’ve been looking at multiple options. ” Harris said about finding a large enough water supply. “We talked to Cypress Black Bayou. They were very nice and open to us but we couldn’t agree to commercial terms.”
“Fortunately that door is still open to us if needed. We have already been using a couple of private landowners’ water in the field for our first three wells. But we still need additional reliable supplies to handle our drilling schedule. Fortunately we have a couple of other folks who’ve come to us and said they’d like to work with us on maybe building some ponds on their property.”
Harris was quoted in The Press-Tribune’s article as saying that the field could potentially host 60-70 wells over the next decade or so. Questions among many of the landowners from the lake revolved around how would water support an operation of that magnitude be attainable without dropping levels for recreation.
Harris said calculations show that one new horizontal well would drop the lake level by about one-tenth of an inch.
“Hardly visible even on a calm day. And it is my understanding that in fall, winter and spring many days there is water going over the spillway. That is lost revenue. And in drought conditions we would never consider taking water out when the lake level gets below the safe operating level. The last thing we would want to do is damage the lake in any way. We know people that live on this lake.”
“We’re going into this from a design standpoint as if we’re going to own it for a long time,” Harris commented. “We keep safety and the environment at the top of our list. So, with the water issue we will have primary and backup plans. Those plans will be formulated and agreed to with the long-term in mind.”
When asked about hydraulic fracturing, Harris assured it is a safe procedure, saying, “I have been doing it for 35 years or so. There are a lot of uneasy feelings about hydraulic fracturing in the public. Being an engineer and understanding the process, I’m very comfortable with the process. I don’t see any problems with it as long as you use sound engineering and design. There are rules and regulations in place regarding well design that we have to abide by and they’re there for a reason.”
While hydraulic fracturing does utilize chemicals, water and sand in their operation, Harris states with certainty that, “in the Benton Field these things are pumped at depths that are thousands of feet deeper than any freshwater aquifers. The aquifers are well protected by multiple casing strings with robust cement in between them”.
As additional insurance in the unlikely event of a mechanical failure, the job would be instantly shut-down via safety shut down devices and pressure relief valves meaning there is very little risk of fresh water contamination.
“You can frac a well on my property anytime.” Harris added.
Empresa’s venture in Benton will possibly grow in the coming years as further discovery could show more potential for drilling. The economic boost to Louisiana is undeniable, with nearly $2 million per well in state and production/severance taxes over the life of the project.
Bossier Parish will reap rewards as well, with large ad valorem taxes and enormous amounts of sales taxes. Minimum sales tax revenue of $70,000 per well will go to the parish based on Empresa’s “tangible” equipment purchases alone. That doesn’t include additional sales taxes on other taxable items per well, as well as local gas stations, restaurants, hotels, and more.
The mineral owners of the Benton Field are also seeing a great return, with over $6 million in bonuses already. “Between the Benton Field proper and the new acreage acquired since 2017, Empresa has roughly 25,000 mineral acres under lease. This sets us up for a very nice economic project that should last many years and bring some good things to the local economies,” Harris said. “No doubt we are excited about this area.”
Special to Bossier Press-Tribune