FARMINGTON — WPX Energy has been honored with an award from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission for Technological Advancement for a new natural gas drilling rig that was built by Aztec Well Companies.

"It's been an long process and it's been exceptional," said Jason Sandel, vice president of Aztec Well Companies.

The drilling rig runs completely on natural gas that is produced on the well site instead of diesel fuel.

"We're very proud of the partnership with Aztec well," said Jeff Kirtland, WPX spokesperson.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission gave the award to WPX on Aug. 6.

Sandel said the rig is one of fewer than 20 in the country.

The rig was built with collaboration between WPX and Aztec Well. Initial plans were to use the drilling rig in the San Juan Basin.

But natural gas prices were falling as the rig was completed and company officials decided to send it to the Piceance Basin in Western Colorado, where WPX has drilled more than 4,400 wells.

The rig saved the company more than $7,000 a day in fuel costs and used about 85 percent less fuel than conventional diesel-fueled rigs, according to a WPX press release.

"Using natural gas as a fuel source is better for the environment and helps reduce costs. Compared to diesel fuel, there's a 24 percent reduction in overall total emissions and an 80 percent reduction of ozone compounds," said Jeff Cutler, Piceance Basin drilling manager, in the release.

The rig, because it uses natural gas, reduced traffic normally required to transport fuel to and from the well sites, resulting in less dust and noise, Sandel said.

"Using existing well pads provides a direct fuel source, reduces additional surface disturbance, and takes advantage of the pipelines and infrastructure that are already in place," Cutler said.

The environmental benefits of the "Aztec 1000" rig include a 24 percent reduction in total air emissions and an 80 percent reduction in ozone-harming particulates compared to diesel rigs, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission stated in a release.

The rig is also capable of moving between multiple wells on a single pad without being disassembled. It has the ability to "walk" onto different holes on a well pad, Sandel said.

The rig has four natural gas engines that provide the required horsepower needed to drill both vertical and horizontal well depths between 8,000 to 15,000 feet, the release stated.

The success of the rig spurred WPX to convert six other rigs into dual fuel units that can use natural gas or diesel.

Sandel said he expects rigs similar to this one may be the standard of the future.

"I think that this type of a partnership and this type of a rig is most definitely a wave of the future," he said

WPX has invested more than $7.5 billion to develop holdings in the Piceance Basin in the past 10 years. WPX plans to spend $475 million to $495 million in Colorado in 2014.

"We see a great value to the air quality as this rig runs twenty four-seven," Kirtland said, "The rig is improving the air quality and is good to the environment."

Erny Zah is the business editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4638 and ezah@daily-times.com. Follow him @erny zah on Twitter.