Multi-well pads are becoming bigger and a more common sight in the western North Dakota Oil Patch.
The pads consolidate impacts to nearby landowners and the environment to one concentrated spot, rather than single wells being sprinkled across the landscape.
The wells’ coziness doesn’t extend underground though - horizontal drilling allows the wells to start in one spot but spawn in various directions, to wherever the oil is.
So far this year, 60 percent of the wells permitted were for shared pads, up from about a third from 2011, according to Department of Mineral Resources data.
The pads are growing, too. In the recent past, the average multi-well pad had seven wells on it. Now the average has about 10, DMR spokeswoman Alison Ritter said.
Rather than fanning wells out over acres, the pads consolidate sets of wells to one site.
Back in the 1950s, North Dakota wells took up 10 percent of the surface land they drilled under, Ritter said.
Today, that “footprint” is less than half a percent of the land.
“That’s the whole point behind multi-well pads is being able to limit the amount of damage we have to the surface,” Ritter said.
That, in turn, allows companies to build roads, truck equipment and lay pipeline to one centralized site rather than many.
“Companies should want to do it,” Ritter said. “It’s more cost-effective to them.”
The drilling itself is more efficient, too.
Rather than taking a rig down and setting it back up at well after well, “the rig has little feet and so it just walks to the next well” on the same pad, Ritter said.
“It vastly improves our efficiency when we are able to move from one well to the next by just sliding the rig over a few dozen feet,” said Chip Minty of Devon Energy, which drills in the Rocky Mountain, Permian Basin and Barnett Shale regions.
“It’s a standard not only for Devon but it’s become a standard for the industry because of what horizontal drilling allows us to do,” he said.
Both the North Dakota Industrial Commission and the Bureau of Land Management, which considers applications to drill on federal lands, say they encourage multi-well pad drilling wherever it’s possible. In some cases, the topography doesn’t allow it.
Dickinson BLM assistant field manager Loren Wickstrom said the pads also expedite permitting because officials can consider parts of the applications jointly.
The pain, on the other hand, is for the unlucky landowners on roads leading to the multi-well pads.
“If you happen to live on one of those roads, obviously the traffic impacts are going to be tremendous from the time they spud the well to while they’re fracking,” Ritter said.
North Dakota Petroleum Council President Ron Ness said the pads are part of what he sees as the second phase of the Bakken, after a transition from exploration and leasehold activity to the harvest and development phase.
“Now it’s (about) how do you become more efficient at extracting the resource, reduce costs,” he said. “How do you lower your movement, whether it’s trucks or rigs.”