Winds fanning western Colorado blaze; threatened wells have been shut down
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Federal officials said there are 35 active gas and oil wells within about five miles of the 1,500-acre Pine Ridge Fire in Mesa County, and that the fire has already burned past one well.
Fighting wildfires in an area with oil and gas development adds complexity and raises special safety issues, said BLM spokesman David Boyd.
“We know who the operators are and we call them right away,” Boyd said, explaining that the wells can be turned of from remote locations, and the wells near the Pine Ridge Fire have been shut down.
The wells are monitored in real-time at a central office in Parachute or other locations, where operators can track the exact amount of production, as well as the volume and pressure of gas flowing through pipelines, said David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association.
Ludlam said there may be a few older wells that require manual shutdown, but he said he’s not aware of any on the Western Slope.
Boyd said that federal permitting requirements include specific conditions with regard to well design and location as it relates to potential wildfire threats, and said that the well pads themselves could be considered defensible space since they are generally cleared of vegetation.
In cases where wildfires burn in oil and gas fields, they often burn all the vegetation right up to the edge of the well pads, he said, referring to the Red Apple Fire a few years ago near Rulison.
Nevertheless, wildfires in gas and oil fields do add risk, he said, specifically mentioning potential issues with buried pipelines if bulldozers are used to create fire lines. At the Pine Ridge Fire, such heavy equipment is currently not being used.
Condensate tanks and compressor stations present more risk that firefighters have to think about, he said. And while local firefighter training includes information about oil and gas developments, any crews coming in from another region need to get an extra briefing.
Potential threats also include leaky equipment and facilities, problems that have been documented at some oil and gas facilities around the country.
Additionally, the BLM addresses the potential risk of ignition from oil and gas operations by including special restrictions on the industry during Stage 2 fire restrictions, which are in effect for public lands in Colorado at the moment.
Those rules address things like flaring (the practice of burning off excess gases like methane that are a byproduct of drilling).
Ludlam said the industry has direct lines of communication with local fire districts to be sure that all critical information is available to first responders. He said local fire protection districts in oil and gas country have been able to buy specialized and updated equipment, sometimes with direct donations from the industry, and also through special fire district assessments.
Filed under: climate and weather, Colorado, Drought, energy, forest fires, gas drilling, Uncategorized, wildfires Tagged: | Colorado wildfires, Debeque Colorado wildfire, Mesa County wildfire, oil and gas wells, Pine Ridge Fire