RIFLE, Colorado - A recent fire on an Antero Resources gas-well pad south of Silt was 800 feet from the nearest home and will be proven blameless concerning spikes in air pollution that appeared at around the same time as the fire, an industry spokesman said on Thursday.
Jon Black, local operations manager for Antero Resources, told the Garfield County Energy Advisory Board, that the investigation into the cause of the blaze has not yet concluded.
Black is the Antero representative on the board, which is made up of industry personnel, emissaries from area towns and organizations, and citizens representing different geographical sections of the county.
The fire, which happened in the evening of New Year's Day, was in the Mineota Estates area south of Silt, and involved two "flowback tanks" that typically hold water used in the hydraulic fracturing process of freeing up deeply buried deposits of oil and gas.
Both the Burning Mountains and Rifle fire departments sent crews to the site, in order to prevent the fire from jumping off the well pad.
But, according to Burning Mountains Fire Chief Brit McLin, the fire was kept within berms erected by the company for emergency containment. McLin also confirmed Black's estimate as to the distance from the fire to the nearest home.
Dave Devanney, representing the Battlement Concerned Citizens group from Battlement Mesa, told the EAB on Thursday that his neighbors' concerns about safety were "heightened" by the fire and asked for assurances that "events like this won't happen in our neighborhood."
Antero last year announced plans to drill up to 200 wells in the Battlement Mesa neighborhood, an unincorporated community near the town of Parachute, although formal applications to the state and to Garfield County have yet to be submitted.
Although he declined to discuss the investigation in detail, Black predicted that the results will show that the air pollution from the fire was not a hazard to human health.
"I think you're going to find the amount [of pollution] is very negligible," he told the board.
Concerned citizens have noted that county air quality monitors, tracking small particulate matter in the air known as PM2.5, showed "spikes" that exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency's maximum allowable standards at around the same time as the fire.
County Environmental Health official Jim Rada, however, told the Post Independent this week that the spikes could not, at this point, be attributed to the fire.
Rada said the spikes might just as well be from inefficient wood burning stoves working overtime to counter the cold wave that has hit the region.
Black remarked that the fire should not unduly alarm residents of the Battlement Mesa community.
He said the average "setback" in Battlement Mesa, or distance from a well pad to nearby homes, will be "approximately 500 feet."
Some residents of Battlement Mesa have been concerned because the current rules of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission establish a minimum setback of only 150 feet, or one and a half times the height of the derrick, whichever is greater, in most circumstances.
Garfield County's oil and gas liaison, Judy Jordan, said that in "high density" gas well configurations, the minimum setback is 350 feet.
The Battlement Mesa well pads would be in an existing residential area and could be packed more closely together than wells in more rural settings.
As a result, Jordan said, the "high density" standards may be the ones that apply to the Battlement Mesa wells.