One of the newer, smaller wildfires raging in Colorado sparked concerns Thursday about natural gas exploration and production (E&P) activities along the Western Slope in the Piceance Basin, but industry sources said there was no cause for alarm among citizens or fire-fighting officials. Any dangers are minimal because facilities can be shut in with the push of a button, an oil and gas official said.
Generally, officials with the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), the state’s major energy utility, Xcel Energy Inc., and a major pipeline operator, Colorado Interstate Pipeline Co., reported no impact on their parts of the energy supply chain from the triple-digit temperatures and lightning-ignited fires that have been burning for several weeks now.
COGA emphasized that oil and gas operators 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 director of the COGA western slope affiliates branch that includes Piceance operators, David Ludlam said the E&P companies apply a combination of technology, training and teamwork in anticipating wildfire threats.
“All of these wells are controlled electronically [solar-powered remote telemetry], and the computers can be shut off remotely at any time,” Ludlam told NGI on Thursday. “That applies not only to the wells, but to the gathering system from the midstream pipelines that take the gas and move it from one place to another.”
Ludlam said every well in the Piceance is monitored continuously through a combination of computer systems and the telemetry. “That’s one backstop, and the second is training,” he said. “Often times to get drilling permits, operators have to have in place emergency response plans that include wildfire mitigation and general response plans.”
Finally, the operators have plans for working with local fire-fighting districts and federal officials from the Bureau of Land Management and other agencies. These officials are given access to the operators’ maps and facility schematics, so they know what sort of oil/gas infrastructure is out there.
A newer blaze, named the Pine Ridge fire, had consumed about 1,000 acres and was within 10 miles of some gas wells in the Piceance, Ludlam said. “There are oil and gas operations nearby, but there is not necessarily a large amount of concern because of what I said about the preparations operators go through.”
Ludlam reiterated several times that he was unaware of any direct threats to oil or gas operations along the western slope, which is the area where wildfires can potentially impact oil/gas field operations.
An Internet blog that specializes in satellite imagery downloaded views of Colorado with its raging fires and identified oil and gas wells in relationship to major current fires. The operators of the blog, SkyTruth, indicated ignorance of what happens “if a wildfire burns in close proximity to natural gas wells and pipelines,” but then speculated that they could “add some risk to the fire-fighting effort.” Industry officials adamantly disagreed with this assessment and said the operators work closely with the fire officials on an ongoing basis.
Encana is the largest leaseholder in the Piceance with approximately 829,000 net acres, according to company reports. ExxonMobil (300,000 acres), WPX Energy (211,000 acres) and Occidental Petroleum (140,000 acres) also have major leaseholds in the play.
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