04 Mar Static Electricity Suspected in Colorado Gas Blast
Static Electricity Suspected in Colorado Gas Blast
Massive oil, gas explosion north of Greeley results in minor injuries
Static electricity and possibly a parking violation may be the culprits in a massive explosion and fire at an oil and gas drilling site north of Greeley.
Neighbors were rocked out of their beds around 11:20 p.m. Monday, when an explosion shook their doors. The subsequent fire could be seen for miles.
“We were getting ready for bed and the whole house shook,” said Liz Hergert, a resident in the area.
Her husband drove up the road a bit and snapped several pictures of the fire, which was offset from the drilling site at some storage tanks.
The fire occurred at a Bill Barrett Corp. drilling site a couple of miles west of Lucerne in the area of Weld County roads 27 and 70.
“We see the source as either being static electricity or it appears someone may have parked their truck too close to the tank, so there’s competing theories at present as to the actual source of ignition.” — Duane Zavadil, senior vice president of environmental health and safety, regulatory and governmental affairs for Bill Barrett Corp.
Though it was technically in the Eaton fire protection district, firefighters from Windsor and Greeley also responded. A total of 18 firefighters were on scene with eight trucks, said Eaton Fire Capt. Michael Lenderink. They cleared the scene about 3:30 a.m., he said.
Officials believe the explosion occurred as workers were separating the initial output of oil and water from the well during the final portions of the drilling process.
The oil and water were being placed in temporary storage tanks as a part of the transition from drilling the well to completion, which would be when the well is producing and the liquids stored in permanent tanks on site. Oil had accumulated on top of the water that was being put in a temporary tank, which created vapors that became the fuel for the explosion.
Either static electricity arced and caused a spark to set off the vapors, or there was another ignition source, such as a vehicle.
Duane Zavadil, senior vice president of environmental health and safety, regulatory and governmental affairs for Bill Barrett, said it was unusual to have oil accumulating on top of the water in this case, but it was more of a function of the initial production from the well bore, which often varies in flowback pressure.
Zavadil said the incident remains under investigation, but officials have two working theories on the cause.
“We see the source as either being static electricity or it appears someone may have parked their truck too close to the tank, so there’s competing theories at present as to the actual source of ignition,” Zavadil said. “At end of day, the flammable vapors were present as a consequence of oil accumulation.”
Firefighters doused the fire with foam, which is typically used on “Class B” fires, or those involving flammable liquids.
“If we put water on it, it’ll just make the fire bigger,” Lenderink said. “We used our water to cool the oil separator and exposures until we could get a decent amount of Class B foam on site, and we used the foam to blanket the fuels and oil until it smothered the fire.”
The foam came to the district via Windsor-Severance Fire. Firefighters had to truck in about 20,000 to 30,000 gallons of water to create the foam, which created a protective blanket on the fire.
“It takes a bit once the blanket builds up,” Lenderink said. “It obviously smothers the fire because it cuts off the oxygen. The blanket cools the liquids and suppresses any vapors.”
He said there was no hazardous material spills to worry about.
“The fire was burning long enough, it consumed all the product,” Lenderink said.
Two workers received minor injuries and were treated on scene, which is one of the silver linings. Zavadil said had the workers not been wearing flame resistent clothing, they would have gotten more than the singed eyebrows they did get.
There was no resulting damage to neighboring property, and the storage tanks held up well, Lenderink said.
“It was down in a hole, at a lower elevation, so any nearby houses were up and over a hill,” Lenderink said. “Thankfully, we didn’t have to really worry about that.”
The well will be shut-in while officials investigate, which could be just a few days, Zavadil figured. But ultimately, that price tag could reach $100,000 a day in lost production, he said.
Zavadil said the incident is being investigated so officials can learn from it and prevent a second occurrence.
“Our management will tell you … there is no such thing as an accident,” Zavadil said. “Ultimately, we’d consider it something that is mitigable, that we’re not going to just simply say it was a freak spark, or someone parked too close. There’s something to be learned from this circumstance that we’ll be reacting to.”
He added, “We don’t ascribe any accident to bad luck. They’re all things we think we can improve on and learn from.”
Bill Barrett has a smaller holding in the DJ Basin than some of the bigger players, such as Anadarko Petroleum or Noble Energy.
In an investor presentation last month, the company reported plans to spend upward of $390 million this year on drilling in the DJ Basin, which is a liquids-rich bowl beneath all of northeastern Colorado containing several oil and gas producing formations, most notably the Niobrara Shale.
Corporate documents state that Bill Barrett has almost 1,700 gross drilling locations and more than 54,000 acres throughout the basin, much of which is in Weld County. The 2014 plan calls for drilling 85 wells, plus participating in the drilling of 45 more.
Last quarter, the company produced 5,125 barrels of oil equivalent per day, which is a mixture of oil, gas and natural gas liquids.
See complete The Tribune article here: http://www.greeleytribune.com/news/10455258-113/fire-lenderink-site-explosion