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Colorado Fire Postmortem: Most Gas Wells Online, Response Smooth

The Pine Ridge fire along the Western Slope of Colorado tested the natural gas industry and required more than 10 wells to be shuttered in part of the Piceance Basin earlier this month (see NGI, July 9), but the response was effective, according to Encana Corp.'s David Grisso, who was the producer's manager on the ground.

None of Encana's 35 gas wells that were shut in at one point were damaged, and all but seven are online, Grisso told NGI. The remaining wells are smaller producers in an area that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has asked to be kept shut-in temporarily. Otherwise, everything worked smoothly, he said. Encana divides its Piceance operations in the north portion includes 1,415 wells spread over 75 multi-well pads; the south has 1,415 wells on 431 pads. Production breaks down to 275 MMcf/d from the north and 355 MMcf/d from the south, according to a spokesperson.

BLM's chief engineer in Grand Junction, CO, contacted Grisso once the Pine Ridge inferno grew from a few acres in size to hundreds of acres. "From then on, I received every communication BLM put out internally and externally," he said, noting that when the fire grew to 700 acres BLM provided its coordinates and projected path. With that information, the Encana team decided to shut in all directly affected wells and a others in the area. Encana is one of the biggest operators in the basin.

"Our only access to some of the wells would have been through the [BLM's] 'danger quadrant,' so we went ahead and shut in the extra wells," said Grisso. Most of the wells were shut manually because that is how the operator prefers to do it. None of the facilities sustained any damage, he said. Technology, well site design and operations, and emergency training/preparedness all have been improved in recent years throughout the industry (see NGI, July 2).

"We installed electronic flow measurement on all of our gas wells," Grisso said. "As part of that [remote telemetry system] we receive specific points of data from the operation of the well, such as pressures, flow rates and temperatures, and through that we can communicate back to the well site through the control valve and shut in the well." Shut-off valves have always been there to protect the drilling equipment, but to that has been added an electronic solenoid. Operators at a remote control center can communicate with each of the wells. "We have multiple wells on each pad, so we can choose to shut down multiple pads or just individual wells within each pad."

Although it is unlikely that a fire would reach a well site because of fire-prevention designs, if a remote telemetry unit is damaged, the entire pad shuts in automatically, Grisso said. "You lose power, and the whole pad shuts in. That's our fail safe." In addition to maintaining the automatic shutdown capability for the past decade, Encana and other operators design pads and maintain them with various safety measures in mind. For example, they keep a one- to two-acre area surrounding each pad clear of vegetation.

On Friday the Colorado Oil and Gas Association said the energy industry has committed $400,000 to fire relief efforts in the state, in addition to individual employees' donations.

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