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Power line shortage in Oklahoma hampers oil production

Producers have found a large amount of oil in northern and northwestern Oklahoma, but a shortage of power lines has threatened to slow development of the area.
by Adam Wilmoth Published: November 26, 2012

photo - A Western Farmers Electric Cooperative transmission crew completes work on the Bearcat Substation near Mooreland in northwest Oklahoma. Photo provided
A Western Farmers Electric Cooperative transmission crew completes work on the Bearcat Substation near Mooreland in northwest Oklahoma. Photo provided

One of the country's fastest-growing oil fields is facing a power struggle.

Producers are trying to recover oil and natural gas from the Mississippi Lime formation and other fields in northwest Oklahoma and western Kansas, but their efforts are being slowed by insufficient access to electricity.

“These are typically very rural areas that don't have a lot of existing load,” said Brian Hobbs, vice president of legal and corporate services at Western Farmers Electric Cooperative. “As this development is going on, the power requirements are increasing very rapidly. It requires a significant build out of infrastructure.”

Western Farmers supplies the electricity needs of more than two-third of mostly rural Oklahoma through its 19 electric cooperatives throughout the state.

The utility is building 135 miles of new transmission lines in northern Oklahoma to help meet some of the sudden new power needs.

But for the oil companies, the new lines cannot be built fast enough.

New oil boom

The Mississippi Lime is a dense rock formation. Like with shale plays and other hard rocks throughout the country, producers are using technology improved within the past decade — including horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing — to recover the oil and natural gas that could not be produced economically just a few years ago.

Oil companies can use electric generators to drill and complete the Mississippi Lime wells, but the pumps needed to suck the oil to the surface require vast amounts of power.

While the power demand can vary widely, one section with three oil wells and a water disposal pump typically can use nearly one megawatt of power, or about as much electricity needed to power 1,000 homes, said Steve Slawson, vice president of Slawson Exploration.

Slawson controls acreage in Logan County on the edge of the Mississippi Lime.

“One reason we bought the acreage in Logan County is because it was closer to the metro area with better infrastructure,” he said. “But we still will have to spend several million dollars extending the electric lines to our wells.”

Relative time

The infrastructure construction problem is an issue of two very different time tables.

Transmission lines are a large-scale, regional issue. Any new line, substation or large user must be balanced with other lines and systems throughout the region.

Many of the changes must be approved by the regional Southwest Power Pool, a regional regulatory body that manages the electricity grid in Oklahoma and six other states.

The power pool first requires regional studies and other processes that can take years to complete.

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by Adam Wilmoth
Energy Editor
Adam Wilmoth returned to The Oklahoman as energy editor in 2012 after working for four years in public relations. He previously spent seven years as a business reporter at The Oklahoman, including five years covering the state's energy sector....
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