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Natural gas drilling underway near Sunnyside

Houston-based Sierra Engineering will drill for natural gas just north of the Vernita Bridge, about 12 miles from Sunnyside.

Drilling operations could be just days away as Sierra plans to begin the project in November, according to Bill Delahoussaye, Washington state's representative for Denver-based Encana Oil and Gas (USA), Inc., which hired Sierra to oversee natural gas drilling here.

Sierra has already arranged to buy water from Sunnyside, at a rate one-and-a-half times paid by city residents.

Sunnyside City Manager Bob Stockwell said the firm will truck water from the city to the Vernita Bridge site. Delahoussaye noted the water will be used to remove cuttings and scrap materials from out of the natural gas wells as they are drilled.

"We're just going to drill and see what we've got," Delahoussaye added.

He indicated at least six to eight months of drilling will be required before Sierra can determine whether the site near Sunnyside will be profitable enough to warrant further development.

Sunnyside is one of three test sites Sierra is conducting in Washington state. "We'll have to run tests to see if the quality and quantity is there," he said of possible future operations in Sunnyside. "If there is enough supply, then we'll have to see what it would cost to run a pipeline."

If a pipeline is feasible, then Delahoussaye said local residents along the length of the line would be able to tap into it for service.

He said another option is to truck natural gas out of the area.

But that's all up in the air at this point, depending on what the drilling tests produce. Even a positive result would not mean immediate natural gas delivery.

"It would be years before we produced any natural gas," Delahoussaye said of the big picture if the site near Sunnyside yields sufficient supply. "We would first need piping and infrastructure."

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