A crowd gathers on Wednesday for the opening ceremony of the Four Corners Oil and Gas Conference at McGee Park in Farmington.
A crowd gathers on Wednesday for the opening ceremony of the Four Corners Oil and Gas Conference at McGee Park in Farmington. (Megan Farmer — The Daily Times)

FARMINGTON — The main topic on people's minds at the Four Corners Oil and Gas Conference on Wednesday was the status of Mancos Shale oil exploration and production.

For months, San Juan County oil companies and business owners have speculated about whether or not an oil boom will hit the area in the near future. And on Wednesday, more than 200 people filled a room at the McGee Park Convention Center to hear one company's thoughts on Mancos Shale, which some have said could spark the boom.

Jeff Villalobos, Encana Corp. completion manager, delivered a 30-minute presentation about the company's recent challenges as it drills for Mancos Shale oil in Gallup Play area, which includes San Juan County.

Villalobos showed a slide that listed the top producing wells in the area.

“We have three leading wells,” he said.

Although Villalobos' slide didn't include production information on how much oil came from the wells, Encana has identified the San Juan Basin as a priority this year, Doug Hock, an Encana spokesman, said in an interview several weeks ago.

Encana announced earlier this year it expects to invest $300 to $350 million to explore and produce oil in the Gallup Play area.

Villalobos' presentation delivered technical information about the challenges the company experienced in drilling wells last year, including the types of drill bits used and the angles of the wells to gain the best production. 

Hock said the company drilled 30 wells last year in the Gallup Play area and expects to drill more than 40 this year.

Another session at the conference on Wednesday tried to drum up public interest to support oil and gas activities. 

Marita Noon, executive director of the Citizens' Alliance for Responsible Energy, handed out bumper stickers during her presentation that read, “Energy Makes America Great.”

Esther Willetto, a Bureau of Land Management employee and translator, gives a presentation on the challenges oil and gas companies face when they want to
Esther Willetto, a Bureau of Land Management employee and translator, gives a presentation on the challenges oil and gas companies face when they want to drill on the reservation on Wednesday at the Four Corners Oil and Gas Conference at McGee Park in Farmington. (Jon Austria — The Daily Times)

“I hope to fire them up with the important role that energy plays in America,” said Noon, whose energy columns are published in The Daily Times and 10 other newspapers in the country.

Noon said not enough people advocate for American energy and the need to develop more energy, including oil and gas.

“I want to give them talking points,” she said about her columns and the interviews she gives.

During her presentation, Noon shared a story about when she ordered coffee at a coffee shop. She told the cashier she was going to be interviewed on a nationally televised show about her views on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

 

The cashier didn't know what fracking was, Noon said, but people in communities that produce energy are familiar with the process, which involves drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at a high pressure to fracture shale rocks to release the natural gas or oil inside.

“People out there really don't have a clue,” Noon said.

She urged the roughly 120 people at her presentation to become active in hearings and comment sessions so the government can hear their pro-energy stance.

“We need to get engaged,” she said.

Frankie Davis, a representative for the Diné Allottee Association, attended the conference to gather information for Navajo allottees. Allotted land is owned by the Navajo Nation, but the heirs, who are called allottees, on the land have similar rights to private land owners.

From left, ConocoPhillips General Manager Terri King receives an award from Carson National Forest representative Buck Sanchez on Wednesday at the opening
From left, ConocoPhillips General Manager Terri King receives an award from Carson National Forest representative Buck Sanchez on Wednesday at the opening ceremony of the Four Corners Oil and Gas Conference at McGee Park in Farmington. (Megan Farmer — The Daily Times)

The Gallup Play area, which spreads from the Jicarilla Apache Nation and through the Navajo Nation, is often referred to as a “checkerboard” area because land can be private, state, federal or tribal.

“We need to be educated,” Davis said, adding that education is a way to improve education between allottees, oil companies and governments.

At the same time, Davis said, people need to understand the cultural values Navajo people place on the land.

“We need to respect our land and culture,” she said.

The Four Corners Oil and Gas Conference concludes today at McGee Park.

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