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October 2, 2008

Oil industry arrives in western Mercer County

The first oil well drilling permit was issued in Mercer County to Brigham Oil & Gas, headquartered in Austin, Texas.

The North Dakota Industrial Commission’s Oil and Gas Division approved the permit for a wildcat well Sept. 12 on surface area belonging to Lois Wanner, who resides about 10 miles south of Golden Valley. While Wanner is the site’s surface owner, she does not own mineral rights on the property. Brigham Oil is leasing the site’s mineral rights and the owner’s identity was not available come press time.

The term "wildcat" means the exploratory well is drilled in a site not in any established oil field.

According to Rob Roosa of Brigham’s Investor Relations, the site will be briefly built up before a rig arrives onsite to drill. After two days of setting up the rig, or "rigging it up," the drilling process will last for about 35 days, Roosa said.

The number of employees on site will vary, but be at its highest when fracturing the rock bed to allow the oil bore to reach the oil. This process, known as "fracing," involves fluid being injected into a well at pressures so intense that the structure cracks, or fractures. Fracing is used both to open up fractures already present in the formation and create new fractures. Propping agents are injected along with the fluid to prop open the new fractures. The U.S. Department of Labor defines a propping agent, or proppant, as: "a granular substance (sand grains, aluminum pellets, or other material) that is carried in suspension by the fracturing fluid and that serves to keep the cracks open when fracturing fluid is withdrawn after a fracture treatment." Sand will be used as the proppant in this particular case, Roosa said.

The fracing process will last three to four days. After the well is drilled, the site will be checked daily but requires little onsite personnel maintenance. Contracted personnel onsite will be in constant communication with Brigham’s geologists, Roosa said, who will be monitoring well conditions via satellite.

There are currently 86 rigs drilling for oil in North Dakota as of Sept. 19. Every drilling rig supports 40 direct jobs and another 80 indirect jobs, said Lynn Helms, director of the state Industrial Commission’s mineral resources department.

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