Companies closing gas wells near blaze

The lightning-sparked Pine Ridge Fire, erratic and gaining steam, is visible during an airplane flyover on Thursday. The blaze forced the evacuation of about 50 homes south of De Beque and closed a portion of Interstate 70 to traffic.

Oil and gas companies have been closing wells in the area of the Pine Ridge Fire outside De Beque as a safety measure.

About 35 well pads, most with just a single well on them, were within about five miles of the wildfire as of midafternoon Thursday, Bureau of Land Management spokesman David Boyd said.

Some of those may be in areas that already have burned, he said.

He noted that wells and well pads generally are free of vegetation. Contrary to the image people might have of gas wells exploding in flames in wildfires, “we’ve had wildfires burn up to a well pad and there’s nothing for them to really burn,” Boyd said.

Black Hills Exploration & Production, Maralex Resource and Encana USA have pads and wells in the area.

“We’ve notified them about the fire, told them to shut in their wells, which they can do remotely,” Boyd said.

Maralex’s wells already weren’t producing. Encana shut in the single well on its single pad in the area, said company spokesman Doug Hock. Black Hills spokeswoman Amy Estes said the company was closing wells near the fire and “working closely with the BLM throughout the process.”

Chevron spokeswoman Cary Baird said the fire was several miles away from its property as of midafternoon Thursday and its wells aren’t currently threatened.

Nevertheless, “As a precaution, given the dense smoke, high winds and limited access, we are currently shutting in our operation and releasing personnel from work,” she said.

“The company is concerned for the safety of local residents and the workforce and is closely monitoring the Pine Ridge Fire,” she said.

She said Chevron several weeks ago also put in place precautionary practices including limiting welding and grinding activities and the use of tools that might cause sparks, equipping company vehicles with shovels and five gallons of water, restricting smoking and limiting vehicle traffic to roads.

On Friday, the BLM ordered similar measures for oil and gas operations on BLM lands in Colorado. Some other requirements include providing advance notification to the agency of the planned duration and location of many activities at sites, and following certain protocols during flaring of natural gas.

Boyd said having oil and gas facilities in the area “adds complexity to a wildfire situation, for sure.” He said firefighter safety is always a top concern. Firefighters are briefed at the start of wildfire season about oil and gas safety considerations, and the agency works with companies to provide firefighters up-to-date information on well locations, he said.


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