3 missing in Mesa County mudslide; natural gas wells affected; no leak | PostIndependent.com

3 missing in Mesa County mudslide; natural gas wells affected; no leak

COLLBRAN — Crews on Monday searched the bottom edge of a massive mudslide in Mesa County for three men who went missing after checking on damage from an initial slide.

Meanwhile, the West Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association confirmed Monday that one active natural gas production facility operated by Oxy was affected by the slide.

The slide hit Sunday in a remote area near the town of Collbran, about 40 miles east of Grand Junction. The Mesa County Sheriff’s Department estimated it measured 4 miles long, 2 miles wide and as 250 feet deep in many places, but it said no structures or major roads were affected.

Mesa County Sheriff’s dispatcher Amanda Orr said three men, all area residents, were unaccounted for. CNN early Sunday evening reported that authorities had named them as Clancy Nichols, 51; his son Danny Nichols, 24; and Wes Hawkins, 46.

The men haven’t been heard from since a half-mile wide piece of ridge, saturated by heavy rain, collapsed Sunday and sent mud sliding for 3 miles.

Sheriff Stan Hilkey said the search has been hampered because only the lower third of the slide is stable. At the edges there, the mud is 20 to 30 feet deep. It’s believed to be several hundred feet deep in some places.

Hilkey said everyone is praying for a miracle but said no signs of the men or their truck have been found.

A sheriff’s helicopter surveyed the slide area early Monday. Authorities erected a roadblock outside Collbran, a town of about 700 people, to keep onlookers from the slide area, situated near Salt Creek road and Vega Reservoir.

The region features large mesas and is partially surrounded by the Grand Mesa National Forest.

Rescuers raced to the scene when it was reported around 6:15 p.m. Sunday, sheriff’s spokeswoman Lisa McCammon said. She said the slide area was “very unstable.”

The sheriff’s office said that the person who reported the slide at about 6:15 p.m. “described hearing a noise that sounded much like a freight train.”

The site is in a rural part of the county and there were no reports of any structures damaged or major roads affected, McCammon said.

“This slide is unbelievably big,” Mesa County Lt. Phil Stratton said.

Authorities say heavy rains that fell over the weekend contributed to the slide.

Meanwhile, the threatened well pad hosts three active natural gas wells located along Salt Creek Road, West Slope COGA spokesman David Ludlam said in a news release.

“The wells were monitored remotely using telemetry and on Sunday showed no signs of spills or releases,” the release said.

“Out of an abundance of caution, companies shut down the natural gas wells manually also conducting a physical assessment of the equipment,” Ludlam said. “Connective pipelines associated with the natural gas wells were depressurized and drained.

A limited number of non-producing natural gas wells may have also been affected, but pose no immediate risk factors to the public or environment, according to WSCOGA.

Ludlam said that natural gas companies follow stringent emergency protocols during major weather events.

“We are pleased with preliminary reports showing minimally affected oil and gas production equipment,” he said, adding Oxy manually shut down the small number of wells at risk.

“We believe all potentially affected natural gas locations are secure,” Ludlam said.

Operators are also monitoring all Plateau Valley locations this week ensuring no new slide movements are detected.

He said the association and its member companies will stay in communication with the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission and local emergency response officials if the mudslide poses any additional risks to natural gas wells.

Ludlam said the industry is also determining how it can assist residents of Plateau Valley in the search and rescue and cleanup efforts.

West Slope COGA plans to establish a “Caring for Collbran” response fund to coordinate industry donations.

The Mesa County slide occurred about two months after a massive mudslide hit the Washington state community of Oso on March 22, killing 43 people.

Sheriff Hilkey said he had been in touch with authorities in Washington about search procedures.

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