Letters from the West

Idaho has become an oil-producing state

It’s not likely to rival Texas, but Idaho is officially producing crude oil.

Alta Mesa Idaho confirmed Tuesday that one of its well in the Willow Creek field seven miles north of New Plymouth is producing both oil and natural gas.

The deeper zone produces crude oil, while the upper zone produces natural gas and condensates, which are liquid hydrocarbons similar to jet fuel. That material condenses as a liquid out of the natural gas as it is brought to the surface.

The well, called the Kauffman 1-9 LT, was drilled and tested during 2014. Alta Mesa has 16 wells drilled in Idaho, with seven of them producing natural gas, condensate, oil and other liquids. Alta Mesa has two wells permitted but not drilled and nine listed as waiting for connecting pipelines. Alta Mesa Idaho Spokesman John Foster said the discovery does not significantly change the nature of the industry in Idaho.

“Only one completion of 10 thus far has produced primarily oil,” Foster told the Idaho Statesman in an email. “This area is in the early stages of exploration, and we consider it most prospective for natural gas.”

Idaho Department of Lands Director Tom Schultz said the condensate, which often sells for more than oil, is more significant at this point.

Both products are collected at Willow Creek and shipped to a railroad yard in Ontario, then shipped to Salt Lake and other destinations. Most of Alta Mesa’s natural gas is used in Idaho Power’s Langley Gulch natural gas electric generation plant. It flows into the Williams pipeline near I-84 south of New Plymouth, where Alta Mesa has a plant that removes water from the gas.

It was six years ago this month that Idaho Gov. Butch Otter announced that Bridge Resources, which was bought out by Alta Mesa, had discovered natural gas in Idaho. In 2010, Bridge found gas and condensate in seven wells it drilled, showing the state can produce natural gas commercially.

Before that, the last well drilled in the state was in 2007 near Grays Lake in Bonneville County. Drillers have applied for permits to drill in that area again, Schultz said Tuesday.

There was a flurry of interest in Eastern Idaho from the early 1970s until the late 1980s, in part of an area known as the Overthrust Belt, a 250 million- to 500 million-year-old rock formation that runs from Alaska to Mexico. This belt produced large oil and gas fields in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado.

The geology in the western Treasure Valley is significantly younger. The Tertiary Period sediments that underlie the area range from 15 million to 20 million years old. That’s when a series of lakes formed Lake Idaho, which drained out through Hells Canyon.

Geologists say the climate was wetter and more like Southern California’s at the time. That humid climate allowed more organic material to grow, decay and be captured in the sediments where gas and oil explorers look today.

Rocky Barker: 208-377-6484, @RockyBarker