- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 23, 2014

GILLETTE, Wyo. (AP) - Before a drilling rig moves in, before the roads and pads it uses are built, there is a surveyor in a field - armed with a network of satellites, a known point on the ground, a stake and a hammer.

Those stakes are often the first man-made hint in the Powder River Basin’s sagebrush seas that a new oil well is on the way.

For more than 22 years, surveyors working for Land Surveying Inc. out of Gillette have driven many of those stakes - recently, more than 2,500 for oil wells and more than 10,000 for coal bed methane wells.

It is just one operation out of an impressive array of companies that has grown and adapted along with Gillette’s mineral industries.

LSI also has a market in general construction surveying. Much of its business comes from oil and gas, though, owners Cevin and Stacy Imus said.

They bought the business and took over operations in 2007, and the industry has brought a lot of change since then, Cevin Imus said.

The past few years has seen a huge uptick in unconventional drilling. Oil and gas producers in the basin have more than doubled annual production since 2010, and continue to add more wells. In the neighborhood of 60 drilling rigs have been operating in the state for most of the year.

This year has also seen the logical follow-up surge in pipeline construction, he said.

“In ‘12 and ‘13 it was wells, wells, wells,” Cevin Imus said. “It went from wells in ‘12 to pipelines in ‘14.”

The amount of effort, geology knowledge and money that goes into each horizontal oil well is staggering, he said - especially compared to the relatively simple and inexpensive coal-bed natural gas wells companies were drilling a decade ago.

After a company submits a plan to have a well, a pad and any roads or other infrastructure staked, revisions are common before construction starts. They weren’t in the CBM days.

Producers’ geologists and LSI’s surveyors and drafters are not making more mistakes, he said. Operators are constantly getting new production information from nearby wells and new understanding about the local geology all the time.

“They’re learning,” Cevin Imus said. “Their plan is forever changing.”

With large groups of methane wells drilled into a coal seam at a fairly consistent depth, sometimes in a grid pattern, plans generally stayed put once they were submitted, he said.

The pace of business was also much different in those days, Stacy Imus said. There were even “staking wars” at times.

Subsidiaries that each had partial interest in the same wells would rush to have their surveyors get a stake in the ground first so they would have operating rights.

While there have been changes to the oil and gas operations, a lot of the landowners have remained constant, Stacy Imus said.

Larger exploration and production companies will come in from Houston or Oklahoma City with their own surveying crews. In addition to LSI developing relationships with the companies that hire their services, some landowners will request or require a local, often LSI, she said.

“That’s the best compliment someone can give you,” she said

They’re concerned about the damage a careless crew can do in the mud or by leaving a gate open or just generally not respecting the property, she said. As long as they have been in business, the Imuses have operated with the understanding that shortcuts don’t pay off in the long run.

They know they are going to be part of the community for the long haul, so no one is well-served if they treat people wrong, Stacy Imus said.

Sticking around for the long haul also means steady work for a lot of people.

“I mean, we support 20 families, and we’re not even a big operation,” she said.

She said her husband had wanted to be a surveyor and eventually run his own firm for as long as she has known him.

Cevin started working at LSI as a surveyor in 2000. A year later, they became partners in the business with the understanding they would eventually have the option to buy it from founders Don and Ann Brady.

By 2007, the Bradys were ready to sell, and Cevin and Stacy bought.

“Don and Ann worked with us a lot for the first two years. It felt a little like a kid riding a bicycle with training wheels,” Stacy Imus said. “They started it and didn’t have kids to take it over, so you really want to make them proud too.”

It has felt surreal at times, she said. But they are doing what they want to be doing, and they have kept the business going and expanded it.

“It was a lot of faith and a lot of CBM wells, thank God,” she said.


Information from: The Gillette (Wyo.) News Record, https://www.gillettenewsrecord.com



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