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Number of natural gas wells stable in Sutter County

The number of gas wells in Sutter County — one of the state's largest natural-gas producers — is fairly stable, says the state agency that tracks figures.

A total of 267 actively producing wells were in the county in June 2012, a drop from the 279 in January 2011, the state Department of Conservation said.

Sutter County produces about 10.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas per year. Gas extraction generates $43.7 million yearly in revenues and provides the equivalent of 142 full-time jobs.

The state issues construction permits for wells, while the land-use permit is handled locally, said Don Drysdale, spokesman for the Department of Conservation.

Lisa Wilson, planning manager for Sutter County, said the local government agency is only involved in the land-use permitting of a proposed gas well and any storage of hazardous materials.

Kristy Santucci, executive director of the Yuba-Sutter Chamber of Commerce, dealt with wells in a previous job. She said the natural gas wells can be as deep as a mile.

"The wells are drilled to locate deposits of natural gas found in extremely dense shale deposits that are said to have formed from ancient oceans," Santucci said.

Remains of microscopic plankton from the ancient sea floor of the Sacramento Valley generate the gas, according to the US Geological Survey. Volcanoes pushed sediments from the Sutter Buttes upward.

Drysdale said that Pacific Gas & Electric Co. buys most of the gas produced in Sutter and Colusa counties.

Utility spokeswoman Brandi Ehlers said the natural gas that the utility buys goes into the PG&E system.

"I can't say it would be within Yuba or Sutter," Ehlers said of supplies. "We don't ever try to resell the gas."

The first commercial drilling of natural gas wells in Sutter County took place in the early 1930s. Some gas wells drilled during that decade in the Sutter Buttes are still producing.

A natural gas well site typically covers about an acre during drilling. The site for a successful well is usually reduced to about a quarter-acre.

Todd Retzloff, county assessor, said the contribution to the region's economy is significant; but after his election to the county post in 2010, he expected the wells to play a larger role. He was reviewing assessments in Sutter County.

"I got to the gas wells," Retzloff said. "I was expecting it to be a reasonable percentage of the roll."

But the range of land in Sutter County, including agricultural properties, means wells represent a more minor role, he said.

"It doesn't have a dramatic effect on the county budget," he said.

"It's in the millions," he said of the value of wells. "Our assessment roll is in the billions."

CONTACT Ryan McCarthy at rmccarthy@appealdemocrat.com or 749-4780. Find him on Facebook at /ADrmccarthy or on Twitter at @ADrmccarthy.


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