By Ron VandenBoom
It could well be one of the largest and most complex industries in the world, but in the counties of Hill, Blaine, Chouteau, and Toole, it practically goes unnoticed.
Despite several hundred employees and millions of dollars in expenditures, the gas and oil industry operates out of sight, and therefore, out of mind for most area residents.
Cole Chandler, operations manager for Klabzuba Oil and Gas, said if you asked the man on the street he wouldnt realize that there are 1,000 gas wells within a 10- to 15-mile radius of Havre with probably 120 miles of gas pipeline. The same number of wells exist in Chouteau County, and Toote County is well known its number of well locations.
If you talk about the public, I dont think they realize how pervasive the gas business is here, he said. And were kind of proud of that.
The reason Chandler and Klabzuba are proud is because their impact, at least to the esthetics of the community and the environment are really quite minimal. Non-intrusive exploration techniques and wells that are low to the ground and occupy very little space are typical of the gas business today.
A business that in addition to being far more environmentally friendly then in years past is also far more complex.
The oil industry is probably one of the most complex businesses Ive ever seen, Chandler said. I dont think most people realize how complex it is how many really qualified and competent people it takes to extract natural resources from the ground.
The process leading to natural gas arriving in the customers home begins with a team of geologists, geophysicist and petroleum engineers choosing the ground that is most likely to contain natural gas.
They reach their decision based on data obtained by seismographic testing, Chandler explained.
This process, too, has become more environmentally friendly. Twenty years ago drilling rigs would bore holes several hundred feet into the ground and plant explosives that when set off would send sound echoes from deep in the earth into seismic equipment. It would require months of study by trained experts to interpret the data and pinpoint the best location to drill.
Today no holes are drilled and seismic work is done through non-invasive techniques. Computers then read and collate the data so experts can learn in weeks what it once took months to find out.
Deals then need to be negotiated with land owners and mineral rights procured before actual exploration begins.
The drilling team will then drill to locate the gas.
Once the well is completed and the pipe is in the ground, then its up to me to get the gas to market, Chandler said, and that entails completing the wells, laying the pipeline, and producing the wells optimally.
Only 50 to 75 percent of the wells turn out to be producers, Chandler said.
Klabzuba drills about 30 well locations a year and most wells will produce for only five to 10 years, he said. Some of the better ones may produce for 20 years.
Klabzuba is not well known in the Havre area even though it has contributed directly or indirectly to the economic well-being of the community through involvement in United Way, and its sponsorship of various youth agricultural programs in Hill and Blaine Counties for 20 years. Its operations, until April 1, 1998, were managed on a contract basis by Textana USA and J. Burns Brown Operating Company.
It currently is involved in the development of its five-year-plan that includes continued exploration in the area north of Havre and construction by Havre Pipeline Company of a $3 million compressor station to be located just inside the Blaine County border.
Klabzuba also pay large sums to the State of Montana that in turn gives the money back to the schools, Chandler said.