GILLETTE — Drilling activity in Wyoming has been busy recently, but the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has been even busier, receiving many more applications for drilling permits than there are actual wells being drilled.

Officials are looking for a solution that will increase production and competition among operators.

Tom Kropatsch, deputy oil and gas supervisor for the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, gave an update on the oil and gas industry Wednesday morning at the 20th annual Energy Exposition.

He said oil production has been on a slight increase for the last few years, with 2019 on pace to produce 95 million barrels, while gas production peaked in 2009.

Ron Auflick of Wold Energy said Wyoming is in the midst of “a permitting tidal wave.”

With the WOGCC’s electronic permit system going online in August, the number of permits filed monthly has doubled and even tripled. More than 3,600 permits were filed in March, Kropatsch said, and if the pace keeps up, he expects about 45,000 permits to be filed by the end of the year.

The problem, he said, is that the number of wells drilled is not matching the number of permits that have been filed. Auflick said a lot of companies are filing permits with no intent of drilling a well. They’re just to protect their acreage.

Kropatsch said rules are being drafted that will be presented to the WOGCC in July, and he hopes they create a “level playing field for all operators” and encourage “the development of Wyoming minerals and help get wells drilled, not just permits filed.”

Auflick said there needs to be a science-driven basis for permitting. There is a lot of groundbreaking technology that isn’t widely used in the oil and gas industry, such as microseismic imaging and four-dimensional imaging. While it can be more expensive, it will end up saving money in the long run, he said.

He suggested making information more readily available to the public, limiting one well per drilling and spacing unit and making room for emerging opportunities in the industry for artificial intelligence.

But even if the Cowboy State doesn’t catch up with these new technologies, Auflick said, “The oil industry won’t pass Wyoming by.”

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