With more than 30 years of experience in the industry, I recognize that there is a negative stigma that accompanies big oil and gas corporations; and with occurrences like BP’s Gulf oil spill, it is often self-inflicted. The perception that oil and gas companies foster a mentality of pump, pump, pump to get the resource out of the ground and move on also rouses a tremendous amount of discontent amongst locals and naysayers, as well as opponents of exploration.
My tenure in the industry spans three decades. I founded Hettinger Welding in 1978 and served as its CEO for nearly 30 years. I am proud to state that Hettinger had grown from a small but mighty team to over 1,400 employees and a 200 million plus dollar annual market share, solidifying its place as one of the largest oil and gas construction firms in the western United States. In 2008, I retired from Hettinger and now serve as Chairman and Chief Operations Officer of High Plains Gas, Inc., an emerging owner and operator that procures, produces and markets natural gas without potentially environmentally harmful fracking practices.
In addition to methane production, I have taken High Plains Gas back to my professional ‘roots’ and formed a unit to provide oil and gas construction services to other producers. Based my team’s experience and our joint philosophy, it seems natural to be able to provide these services to other producers in the region, as it helps us keep our finger on what is going on in the industry and observe best practices on the production side.
Due to my extended experience in the oil and gas industry, I find it vital for execs in the business to still get dirt under their nails. They should roll up their sleeves and be hands-on to truly understand how the wells work. The negativity associated with our industry comes from the perception that oil and gas executives are, at times, out of touch with the workings of the wells and this needs to be altered to reform our industry’s public image. Therefore, it’s important to work together with stakeholders and maintain a professional level of transparency with them.
Extending off this, the negative public opinion surrounding the process of fracking has given the natural gas industry a black eye.
Once production starts to slow, big oil and gas often moves to the ‘next’ hole, when in fact steady yields can easily be realized if one adjusts the techniques used to operate the well. To that end, my team and I have been concerned about certain production techniques being used, such as fracking in the Marcellus, because we don’t know enough about the long term effects of those practices. We think there is a legal battle brewing over fracking in the United States and we don’t believe it makes business sense to tie up capital in fields that require fracking.
To that end, there are many processes to extract several types of natural gas, including dry gas, natural gas liquids and methane, among others. At High Plains Gas, we manage two assets-water and natural gas. With coal-bed methane (CBM), you aren’t going into a formation and breaking rock to release natural gas; the gas is there flowing through the coal seams. The opportunity is to harvest the methane at a naturally flowing pace, versus trying to artificially increase the flow of gas. The process of drilling and operating a CBM well is different from drilling a well and shooting liquids into that well to fracture the geological formations in order to release the gas stored in them.
Drilling a CBM well involves inserting a well into a coal seam, pumping off the water contained in the coal, and releasing the methane gas contained within the coal. High Plains Gas has chosen to operate CBM wells in the Powder River Basin in southeast Montana and northeast Wyoming because it is our home. We know CBM, as well as how the wells work, and we believe CBM has an emergent future in our national energy policy.
Ultimately, a CBM well is a water well. A by-product of that water is methane gas. If you try to manage the production to pump the most gas per unit of water, it becomes a different strategy. Our philosophy is that slow, steady production gives everybody greater cash flows over time than techniques that push that gas out as fast as possible and end up damaging the wells and coal seams.
Mark Hettinger is Chairman and COO of High Plains Gas.
High Plains Gas is a natural gas procurement, production and marketing company that extracts natural gas (Methane) from the Powder River Basin in Central Wyoming.
Editor’s Note: Photo (top) shows a natural gas tapping system. It was originally posted by afroswede on Flickr.