The gas well which struck trouble in drilling should be ready for fracking in weeks.
Gas companies and government officials today continued to play down alarm over the drama at the first well to start exploring for the ocean of shale gas believed to be beneath the Beetaloo, south-east of Katherine.
Drilling and then fracking is expected "within the next month".
Origin Energy says the "operational challenges" which led to the plugging of a long horizontal shaft on its Kyalla 117 well exploring for gas near Daly Waters were "not uncommon".
Kyalla 117 was the subject of a celebratory NT Government media release back in October saying the first steps towards developing an onshore gas industry in the NT had been made after a three-year moratorium.
Primary Industry and Resources Minister Paul Kirby in October said the successful drilling of the Kyalla 117 well, as part of Origin's Beetaloo Exploration Program, was a milestone.
"The Territory Government's focus on creating local jobs and supporting local businesses is being delivered from day one of Origin's new drilling in the Beetaloo," he said.
"Origin successfully drilling in the Beetaloo is another significant milestone reached off the back of completion of all pre-exploration recommendations from the Pepper Inquiry in July, as part of their exploration program.
"Our regulatory framework allows for investment in this emerging industry while protecting our environment."
Origin, and its joint venture partner the Irish-headquartered Falcon Oil and Gas, made a public announcement this week after they alerted the NT Government to trouble at Kyalla 117.
By the end of November, the companies had successfully drilled the vertical shaft almost two kilometres deep into the Beetaloo, finding a 900 metre gas-rich layer of shale as they did.
"The Kyalla 117 vertical well was successfully and safely completed in November last year and there are no issues with integrity - the barriers and safeguards that protect water and the environment all remain in place," Origin general manager for Beetaloo and Growth Assets Tracey Boyes said today.
After completing the vertical shaft, the success of fracking is being able to drill sideways from that main shaft, to drill a long horizontal shaft the width of a dinner plate.
It is this drill hole which is fracked, to open up the fractures in the shale to release the gas.
"We're drilling horizontally in a 50m thick shale that's over a kilometre below the nearest aquifer, with several layers of impermeable rock in between," Ms Boyes said.
"We decided to stop part way because if we continued and completed drilling and lined the bore hole it wasn't going to adequately meet our specifications to undertake fracking and do good test of the well's potential.
"To help visualise, we're drilling a hole that's 8 and a half inches wide and were couple of inches wider in places over a 700 metre partially drilled section. These are the robust operational standards and controls we apply."
Origin wants to drill the horizontal hole between one and two kilometres long.
"What we're doing - plugging back and side tracking from an existing vertical well - is not an uncommon thing to do in exploration drilling and poses no additional risks," Ms Boyes said.
"Fracking will proceed following the successful completion of drilling and after the integrity of the well is independently tested and verified."
Fracking will proceed following the successful completion of drilling and after the integrity of the well is independently tested and verified.Origin's Tracey Boyes.
Anti-fracking groups yesterday called for the entire operation to be shut down until the failure is more fully reviewed.
Graeme Sawyer from NT Protect Country Alliance said the NT public deserved more than the scant detail and industry-speak contained within Falcon's statement.
"It could be that the driller can't keep the borehole open and that the rock is collapsing around the drill bit," he said.
Origin has exploration permits over 18,500 square kilometres of the NT, and along with Santos, has rushed to drill for gas since a three-year moratorium on exploration was lifted.
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