Battlement Mesa fire had potential for ‘highly toxic’ fumes
March 13, 2017
A detailed report from the Grand Valley Fire Protection Department regarding a small fire at a Battlement Mesa natural gas site last week shows that while the incident was effectively contained, the smoking substance is "highly toxic" when on fire.
According to the report, the spontaneous combustion and chemical reaction was in part the result of improper container or storage procedure.
In response, Summit Midstream Construction Manager Cameron Bingham said Monday that was the "fire department's opinion" as Summit had inspectors from chemical companies RockSolid and JennChem supervising the site from start to finish.
"I think the incident was handled well by Summit," said Don Simpson, vice president of business development for Ursa Resources. Ursa will use the site for natural gas drilling once the pipeline is finished being installed by Summit Midstream.
"They had experts from the chemical company there to oversee the operations until late at night," Simpson said. "Summit could have put it out themselves, but they called the fire department because that's their expertise."
Last Wednesday, Summit Midstream had leftover GroutFlex, an expanding foam used to encase wells, and needed to dispose of it. According to Bingham, because the extra foam cannot be transported, it can only be put into a prebuilt containment under chemical company procedures.
Both RockSoild and JennChem had inspectors on site supervising until 6 p.m. Wednesday, after the work was finished and chemical properly disposed of into the pit. Hours later, Linda Kelley with Summit Midstream observed smoke coming from the pit and called Grand Valley firefighters. Firefighters wore self-contained breathing apparatuses as they handled the fire.
"A dark black plume lifting 100-200 feet in the air" when firefighters arrived. Because the plume was going straight up and dissipating, exposure "probability seemed minimal so no evacuations were made," the Grand Valley fire report said. "Upon arrival of proper PPE (personal protection equipment), the fire was extinguished with approximately 200 gallons of water that remained contained to the pit."
GRAND VALLEY FIRE REPORT
The fire report said that Kelley believed that someone had dumped wood into the pit and that caused a chemical reaction and subsequent fire, which Bingham clarified Monday. He said that wood was investigated at the site and that no additional wood was found to be in the pit.
In an email to Battlement Mesa Concerned Citizens' Dave Devanney, Deputy Fire Chief Rob Ferguson said that the investigation ended up showing that the pit to store the excess grout was "dug too steep and wouldn't allow the product to evaporate. This left the product in a state where it was able to generate enough heat in the pit to spontaneously ignite the foam product that was supposed to evaporate."
Bingham stated that Summit Midstream dug the pit to both chemical companies' specifications.
He did not believe the incident to be a significant concern and added that Wednesday had been the last day GroutFlex would need to be used.
While the incident was contained, a fire igniting within the residential boundaries of Battlement Mesa further shows the dangers of having natural gas activities so close to homes, Devanney said.
Devanney's group and others have fought natural gas development within the Battlement Mesa residential area, called a Planned Unit Development. Ursa last year won approval to develop the resources under the PUD that it owns and the pipeline is part of the infrastructure needed for that work.
The site's preparation has had several problems, with a state oil and gas regulator at one point criticizing Summit's handling of soil and water, and crews hitting underground water sources during the work.
Garfield County officials were notified by the Colorado Emergency and Incident Reporting Line coordinator early Thursday afternoon and said that there were no injuries and that public safety officials were quickly notified of the fire and responded to extinguish it.
"The county is regulating installation of pipelines at the location, is continuously overseeing requirements regarding conditions of approval and is regularly communicating and coordinating with Battlement Mesa residents, industry, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conversation Commission and CDPHE relating compliance with county and state regulatory requirements," Garfield County Chief Communications Officer Renelle Lott wrote in a statement for the county.
"Clean-up relating to the fire was addressed by Summit Midstream under advisement of the Garfield County emergency manager as the designated emergency response authority under the Colorado Department of Public Safety," she said.