Engineer, WPX at odds over recent well incident

A retired engineer in Battlement Mesa and WPX Energy are disagreeing over the amount of fluids that came out of a wastewater injection well near Rulison in an incident early this month.

Bob Arrington says he thinks the incident points to a tendency by energy companies to underestimate the volume of spills. But WPX says it was a routine event involving minimal fluid and really wasn’t a spill at all.

Arrington saw the incident happen just north of Interstate 70 as he was driving by on April 2. He said he saw a water column spewing perhaps 15 feet up the rig, and filling a tank to the point that it was overflowing.

“They pulled a lot of water out of that thing,” he said.

WPX has estimated that the incident involved about 1.3 barrels of fluid. A barrel is 42 gallons. Arrington has calculated that 20 or so barrels escaped just during the time he slowed down to watch as he drove by.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission inspected the site and determined it has no information to contradict WPX’s estimate. It has closed the case.

A few days after the incident, WPX spokeswoman Susan Alvillar said she could see why Arrington would be concerned by what he saw, and she would have reacted with the same concern. But she said that in fact it was really vapor that was coming out during an effort to equalize pressure as work was being conducted on the well in preparation for its use in disposing of wastewater. She said it was a common and permitted activity.

“I think they just had an incident that got away from them a little bit,” Arrington said. “They had a pretty good column of water coming out and normally you don’t flood your equipment.”

Jeff Kirtland, a WPX spokesman, said Friday the company knows how much fluid came out in part because it consisted of water that was directed down the well to begin with as part of the work being conducted.

When a large spill of natural gas liquids was first discovered near Parachute Creek last year, Williams initially said a burst pressure gauge on a pipeline leaving its gas plant couldn’t have been responsible and likely leaked less than 25 gallons. Arrington immediately said the gauge likely was responsible for the spill, and Williams ultimately agreed, and estimated that 10,000 gallons reached the soil and groundwater.


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