Even though the Pine Ridge fire in western Colorado near the Piceance Basin was deemed less aggressive and more than 25% contained over the weekend, natural gas operators indicated that they will keep their well operations shut for the foreseeable future and are working closely with local authorities and the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which are overseeing the fire-fighting efforts.

Responsible for destroying three outbuildings and threatening more than 250 homes, the Pine Ridge fire received a higher level incident command Saturday to manage threats to homes, transportation, gas/oil wells and wild horses, according to a report Sunday in the Denver Post.

"As a safety precaution for the community and our employees, Black Hills has shut in all 98 of our gas wells in the area and drawn down pipeline pressures due to the Pine Ridge wildfire," a Colorado-based spokesperson for the Rapid City, SD-based energy holding company told NGI Sunday. "We will continue to work closely with local authorities and the BLM fire response team to monitor the situation. The affected wells will stay shut in until the area is deemed safe."

An Encana Corp. spokesperson on Sunday said the company had shut in 35 wells as a result of the Pine Ridge fire at the start of the weekend, and except for what he termed "a couple of exceptions" the wells remained shut. "No determination has been made as yet when they will be brought online," he told NGI Sunday.

"The majority of the wells were shut in remotely to protect personnel from exposure to the fire, and there has been no estimate yet on the impact to [our] production."

On Friday more than 50 natural gas wells were shut in by three operators along the Western Slope in the Piceance Basin (see Daily GPI, July 2). In one case, wells were shut before operators were asked to do so by the 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," according to David Ludlam, the director of COGA's Western Slope affiliates branch, which includes Piceance operators.

COGA has emphasized that oil and gas operators are required to have detailed emergency response plans in place, including plans to respond to wildfires, and each well pad is designed to avoid major damage from fires. 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.

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