As the Pine Ridge fire in Colorado expanded Friday, up to 50 natural gas wells were shut in by three operators along the Western Slope in the Piceance Basin. In one case, wells were shut before operators were asked to do so by the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM), according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA).

With flames within five miles of the well pads, operations were shut by Encana USA, Black Hills Exploration & Production and a joint venture of the two, Maralex Resources Inc. "The operators knew what to do and did it even before BLM asked them to shut down," said David Ludlam, the director of COGA's Western Slope affiliates branch, which includes Piceance operators.

Although the fire situation remained fluid, Ludlam told NGI there was the prospect for more wells being shut in, and operators were closely monitoring the situation, along with BLM and state fire-fighting officials. "BLM has speculated that the fire could jump Interstate 70 and spread in another direction," Ludlam said. "Operators are on guard, monitoring the fire and working closely with BLM, and all of the operations of the three companies are on standby and shutting in the wells as needed."

As reported Thursday (see Daily GPI, June 29), operators have the ability to be shut down well operations remotely, and have done so, Ludlam said.

COGA has emphasized that oil and gas operators nowadays are required to have detailed emergency response plans in place, including responding to wildfires, and each well pad is designed to avoid major damage from fires, building in multi-acres cleared areas. The Piceance wells and related gathering system equipment and pipelines are all controlled electronically with solar-powered remote telemetry, and the computers can be shut off remotely at any time, according to Ludlam.

A fourth operator, Chevron Corp., said none of its wells were currently threatened, but it was closely monitoring the situation, which included dense smoke, high winds and limited access, causing the company to voluntarily shut down and release workers from the area, according to press reports.

A BLM spokesperson told news media that having the oil and gas facilities in the path of wildfires "complicates" the situation for fire-fighters. However, Ludlam downplayed added threat, saying there was no cause for alarm because the operators are on top of the situation and can shut down with the push of a button remotely.

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