Driller snuffs gas well flares
A new drilling technique is snuffing out natural gas well flares in western Garfield County, and rural residents have warmed to the process.
“Any source of technology that decreases the impacts on resident populations is a welcome one,” said Janey Hines Broderick, president of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance. “It’s promising Williams Production is making a full-time commitment to the process.”
Williams Production operates 700 natural gas wells in western Colorado, and expects to drill approximately 100 more in western Garfield County next year, said Scott Brady, the company’s drilling completion specialist.
“We just about never stop drilling,” Brady said. “We have four to seven rigs operating year in and year out.”
Motorists on Interstate 70 and residents from Parachute to Silt are accustomed to watching flames arc from atop tall stacks when wells are flared.
Brady said flaring is used, sometimes up to five times per well, when the wells are completed. Once flaring is finished, the well is put into production. Natural gas is directed into pipelines for transportation to customers.
Brady said some residents near flaring wells object to the sight of flames burning around the clock. Motorists on Interstate 70 also mistake well flares for wildfires and report them to fire departments.
The Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, comprised primarily of rural residents from Silt to Parachute, has been concerned about flaring since the group’s inception five years ago, Broderick said.
The alliance is primarily concerned about air pollution from flaring. Broderick said it’s common to see the Grand Valley fill with a gray haze in the early morning and late afternoon during cold weather.
“It tends to be limited to when three or four flares are going at the same time,” Broderick said.
Broderick said the alliance is also concerned about other materials, such as drilling mud, that are burned in the flaring process.
Brady said Williams Production and its contractor, BRECO, worked together for “quite some time” to devise a well completion process that in 85 to 90 percent of the wells will not require flaring.
Broderick said, “Eighty-five percent is a pretty darn high. That’s a positive number.”
Drillers flare new gas wells because the well bores emit a sloppy, abrasive mixture of gas, water and sand. If this mix were put directly into a pipeline, it would ruin the gas company’s production facilities.
The new system adds a flowback unit that captures and divides the mixture as it passes through two vertical separators.
Water from the well is directed into tanks, sand is dropped into the well’s reserve pit, and the cleaned gas can then be sent into the pipeline.
The new method captures gas that would otherwise be lost to flaring, and reduces air pollution.
Brady said the new process can’t be used when a pipeline has not yet been extended to the well. “In most cases, we don’t have a problem with that here,” Brady said.
It also might be impossible to use the new process if the company switches to a different fracing, or fracturing, fluid, which might not be compatible with the process.
Brady said Williams Production operates in three gas fields: one north of Parachute, one between Rifle and Parachute on both sides of I-70, and one in the Rulison area on both sides of I-70.
Brady said six to 10 other operators drill gas wells between Grand Junction and New Castle. He isn’t sure whether those operators will switch to the non-flaring process.
“But it’s not anything anyone else can’t design,” Brady said.
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