Although among the smaller, less-life threatening of Colorado’s wildfires so far this summer, the Pine Ridge fire along the Western Slope tested the gas industry with the shutting in of more than 100 wells in part of the Piceance Basin (see Shale Daily, July 9), but the response was effective and expected by the gas industry, according to Encana Corp.’s manager in charge on the ground, David Grisso.

None of Encana’s 35 wells that were shut in at one point were harmed, and all but seven are back online, Grisso told NGI’s Shale Daily Thursday. The remaining wells are smaller producers in an area that the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has asked to be kept off limits for awhile. Otherwise, Grisso said everything worked smoothly and turned out the way the industry practices it periodically with local, state and federal officials.

BLM’s chief engineer in Grand Junction, CO, contacted Grisso once Pine Ridge grew from a few acres in size to hundreds of acres. At that time, Grisso established himself as the single-point contact at Encana for the federal agency. “From then on, I received every communication BLM put out internally and externally,” said Grisso, noting that when the fire grew to 700 acres BLM provided its coordinates and projected path. With that information, the Encana team on its own ultimately shut in all directly affected wells and a few others.

“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 oil and natural gas industry (see Shale Daily, July 2).

With flames within five miles of the well pads early in July, 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 Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s (COGA) Western Slope affiliates branch, which includes Piceance operators.

“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.”

Grisso said 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,” Grisso said.

Although it is unlikely that the fires would reach well sites because of fire-prevention designs and foliage clearance, if a remote telemetry unit was damaged, the entire pad would shut 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, said Grisso.

Encana divides its Piceance operations into north and south. The north portion includes 1,415 wells spread over 75 multi-well pads; the south also 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 an Encana spokesperson.

On Friday, COGA announced the industry has committed $400,000 to fire relief efforts in Colorado, in addition to what individual employees have donated. Encana was one of about a dozen companies participating. In addition, Grisso said Encana and other companies periodically donate equipment, such as breathing apparatus, to fire departments in the areas in which they operate.