Agencies defend gas company
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. Public safety officials are coming to the defense of an energy company following a landowner’s criticism over its contractors’ failure to fight a wildfire in Rulison in July.On Thursday, Marianne Wells appeared before Garfield County’s Energy Advisory Board a second time to complain that operators of bulldozers and other heavy equipment continued working on a Williams Production well pad while the 301 Fire was burning nearby.”To me that’s not the way a good neighbor would behave,” she said.The fire consumed acreage on her property, and Wells said she has yet to receive a satisfactory explanation from anyone about why the energy workers provided no help.”The lack of accountability is of great concern to me,” she said.But Kevin Whelan, fire marshal for the Rifle Fire Protection District, said in an interview that he’d rather not see people fighting fires without proper training.”Firefighters die fighting fire. Why would you send somebody who’s not trained?” he said.He said he thinks Wells is being unreasonable in her criticism of Williams and its contractors, and he has asked her to put her concerns in writing so he can address them more specifically.Jim Sears, emergency response coordinator for the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office, also said proper training is needed to fight fires. Both he and Whelan also said if industry contractors start bulldozing fire lines across private property, they could face questions later over the damage they caused. Whelan said there’s also a danger of bulldozer operators inadvertently hitting gas lines while trying to help out.Whelan said the 301 Fire was started by lightning and burned one structure. He said he believes it burned about 180 acres.Williams spokesperson Susan Alvillar said Williams owns land itself in western Garfield County and can understand why a landowner would want to see the energy industry using its resources to fight a fire. But she said fire departments prefer to control the degree to which the industry helps out.”We pretty much rely on the fire departments to respond and then to ask for our assistance,” she said.When asked, Williams has done things such as provide water trucks and bulldozers, she said. It also has helped with revegetation projects following fires.She said Williams also has to consider the safety of its workers and contractors.”You have to be very careful when you get out of the areas where you’re well-trained and experienced, and that’s where we rely on the people who are,” she said.Williams, EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) and some other oil and gas companies have been working closely with fire departments to try to develop protocols for responses to wildfires, well fires and other emergencies in areas where the companies operate. In situations where companies have the expertise, such as some incidents that occur on well pads, fire departments often look to them to take the lead in responding. However, the industry and fire departments are exploring areas in which they can cross-train.The departments and energy companies also are seeking to establish more formal guidelines spelling out when and how heavy equipment and other industry resources can be put to use in situations such as wildfires.Contact Dennis Webb: email@example.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO
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