Gas flare sets ground to rumbling three weeks prior to discovery of gas seep
An open-air natural gas explosion on the afternoon of March 9 was probably not related to a more recent seep of natural gas in West Divide Creek, officials say.But residents of the area have cited this incident as a possible cause of the seep, because of the dramatic shock that rumbled through the entire area with the release and flaring of the gas.Walter Lowry, director of community and industry relations for EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc., said the incident happened as workers for a gas well drilling subcontractor were drilling one of four bores at a site known as the Arbaney well. EnCana owns the wells. This particular bore is known as Magic 10-2, according to the report on a complaint on the incident filed with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the state regulatory agency. The gas well is near County Road 331, slightly more than a mile west of the natural gas seep discovered March 30 in West Divide Creek.The drilling crew, employed by Patriot Drilling, of Casper, Wyo., was using a technique called managed pressure drilling, said Richard Eberspecher, drilling superintendent for the Mamm Creek Field, the area where the Arbaney wells are located. Eberspecher is a drilling consultant for EnCana who was present during the incident.Workers used a choke to control pressureIn conventional drilling, drillers handle the pressure of gas during the drilling process by placing a mixture called drilling mud in the drill hole, to hold the gas down. In managed pressure drilling, crews use a device called a choke at the top of the well to regulate the amount of gas released from the drill hole, Eberspecher said.Using the choke reduces the weight of mud the crew must use, and allows them to drill faster. The choke has gauges that show the amount of gas pressure in the hole, and regulates the pressure automatically. The usual pressure is around 90 or 100 pounds per square inch, Eberspecher said.On the afternoon of March 9, the choke on Magic 10-2 was showing abnormal pressure, and the crew, unfamiliar with the equipment, called representatives of M-I Swaco, the company that rents and maintains the choke units, Eberspecher said.Our guys hadnt drilled with managed pressure, so they shut her in and called Swaco, he said.Swaco employees got there in about a half hour. The choke was showing 300 pounds of pressure, Eberspecher said. They shut down the well to see whether the choke was functioning right, and released the gas.Gas ignited in a pitNatural gas under great pressure burst out of the well, and was ignited in whats known as a flare pit. Regulations require natural gas drilling operations to burn off, or flare, the gas that escapes at a wellhead, said Doug Dennison, Garfield Countys oil and gas auditor. The gas is ignited in a pit surrounded by a berm so surrounding vegetation is protected from fire.You get a short burst of gas to surface, Eberspecher said, and it hits the fire bucket and causes some concussion.Thats when the neighbors felt this rumbling, Dennison said.The Swaco employees did two tests, Eberspecher said, and released the gas pressure twice.Stephanie Dietrich, whose house is less than 100 yards from Magic 10-2, felt a rumbling under her feet. After 10 minutes, she felt another rumble.I thought there was an earthquake, Dietrich said.After she realized the gas well was the source of the concussion, she and her next-door neighbor walked up onto a rock outcrop nearby to watch.The flares were just unbelievable, she said. It looked like gas was just exploding up into the air.Dietrich said a drilling worker, whom she wouldnt identify, told her that stones were flying up off the ground into his face during the incident.Didnt look like normal activityDietrichs husband, Michael Dietrich, said he drove home during the flaring.There were flames 100 to 200 feet in the air, he said. People were stopping on the county road, because it looked like they had lost control of things.It didnt look to me like any normal activity Ive seen on any of these wells, Michael Dietrich continued.Lisa Bracken, who lives over a mile from the Arbaney wells, felt the concussion as well.We heard a tremendous rumbling, Bracken said. We felt it.Stephanie Dietrich called Bracken, who drove to the Dietrichs house with a video camera.It burned really black, with this huge fireball, for about an hour, Bracken said.Bracken said she thinks some drilling techniques used by EnCana and its contractors are unsafe and unproven, and the companys goal is to get gas out of the ground as fast as possible.I believe this is about getting more holes in the ground before the price drops, she said.No connection to gas seepMichael Dietrich said he doesnt think the industry is adequately regulated, and is a threat to public safety. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is charged with protecting the public from company abuses, he said, but they refuse to drop a hammer on these guys.Brian Macke, deputy director of the COGCC, said the March 9 incident didnt involve any violations of law or regulations that he was aware of.Ive asked our field staff to take another look at it, but at this time, there doesnt appear to be a rule violation, Macke said.He also said he doesnt see how the incident could be connected with the natural gas seep in West Divide Creek discovered March 30.I believe, while there may have been considerable sound impact, it would be highly unlikely that this would have had any effect underground, Macke said.Contact Jeremy Heiman: 945-8515, ext. email@example.com
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