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Natural Hydrogen Energy drilling in Fillmore County

By GREG SCELLIN
Signal Editor

Results from the natural hydrogen drilling operation in northwest Fillmore County should become known in the next few weeks.
Viacheslav "Slava" Zgonnik, general manager with Natural Hydrogen Energy, LLC, expects the Horizontal Well Drillers (HWD)  crew operating on the Bennett Township farm to be able to tell if the expected natural hydrogen can be located, contained and pumped safely to the surface this month. HWD Rig No. 12 began working on the project in earnest in November. Natural Hydrogen Energy, LLC, a global energy company, subleased the northwest section of the farm from owner Joe Hoarty in hopes of being able to drill directly for clean, natural hydrogen.   Zgonnik said the company and its investors are prepared to spend millions to see if the product can be safely obtained from the location.
"It is still ongoing," said Zgonnik on Monday, January 7.
HWD, an oil and gas drilling company based in Purcell, Okla., had a 50-person crew (25-on, 25-off, 24 hours per day) at the site for nearly two months.  Currently, a 28-person crew is maintaining the work schedule. The most difficult part of the estimated 12,000-foot drill came about a month ago when the drilling came in contact with the Aquifer.  A great deal of time was then spent encasing the drilling operation.  Also, the drilling project had to meet specific environmental checks at this time.
Now it is a busy time, said Zgonnik in an e-mail confirming his company's drilling for hydrogen in Fillmore County.  He then noted results should be arriving soon.
Hoarty, who purchased the farm in 2006, said he was approached by Natural Hydrogen Energy officials in March of 2015.  He said the officials told him that satellite imagery indicated that there was natural hydrogen located about 11,000 feet under the farm that is located at the intersection of County Road 5 and County Road J (northwest section of 23, Bennett Township). The officials also did some testing that indicated that there could be some hydrogen leaking from the soil.
"I really never thought anything would come about with it," Hoarty said. "There is a formation there that sticks out from a satellite...it could possibly be there."
Then, in 2018, Natural Hydrogen Energy, LLC., made application with the Nebraska Oil & Gas Commission to drill on the farm and hired HWD after a sub-lease was negotiated with Hoarty. Next, Mussman Excavation was contracted to bring land-leveling equipment to make a road into the field.  HWD officials contacted Fillmore County Roads Department officials to establish a route to bring its 12,000-foot drilling rig to the site.  With the rig came portable buildings for work staff and structures for fuel and equipment.
Fillmore County Sheriff Bill Burgess and Fillmore County Emergency Management director Jim Dunker toured the project area early on.  The workers remain on the site completely.
"It's like a small city out there with all the trailers," Burgess said.
The project also requires extensive on-site security and safety protocols.
"In fact, I have to log in and log out," Hoarty said.
Several Fillmore County supervisors toured the site a couple weeks ago.  Cameras were being sent down the shafts then to see the project's progress.
"It's definitely quite the process in what they're doing," noted Fillmore County Board Supervisor Jeff Neiman at a county board meeting.
If the natural hydrogen load is there as hoped, Hoarty said the well would be capped with a 7-to-8 foot well head and the hydrogen would be piped to a location near the road and then trucked from there.  The nearby Fortigen, LLC., ammonia fertilizer plant could be an end-user for the product.  He said, he was told he could farm over the site.
"If they find this, this would be the first one in the nation," Hoarty said.  "It's a new frontier...it's such a new area.  There are few regulations right now to explore.  There's no guarantees at all right now."
Many European countries are pushing for more-and-more use of hydrogen as a clean fuel source.  In fact, several countries are pushing for at least 25-percent use of hydrogen, as it is considered an extremely clean energy source.  To date, only one well in the world is producing pure hydrogen.  In 2012, while drilling for water, a natural hydrogen source was discovered in Mali, Africa.  This well is expected to continue producing hydrogen for 15 years.
Currently, the best candidates for hydrogen generation requires the decomposition of natural gas (steam-reforming methane which creates greenhouse gases) or electrolysis of water.  Free hydrogen possibilities are a new theory of thought.  To date, it has been thought that molecular hydrogen is not available in convenient natural reservoirs on earth. After several years of intensive research, Natural Hydrogen Energy officials selected the most promising geological sites for drilling operations.  Hoarty's farm in Fillmore County was one of those sites.  The hopes are to find substantial quantities of natural hydrogen that can be extracted and sold at profitable levels.
There is also a growing demand for clean hydrogen gas resulting from the rapidly emerging market of clean technologies, such as fuel cells used in passenger cars, trucks, buses, trains and even locomotives, boats, forklifts, planes and other devices that can function on hydrogen.  Hydrogen can also be used directly to power electric generators and internal combustion engines.  Many energy experts indicate there is a real need for cheap, clean and sustainable hydrogen. These experts also estimate that hydrogen production is a $150 billion-plus industry.