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Human error blamed in drill rig fire

Human error is likely the cause for the rupture and fire at a Williams Production Co. natural gas well near Parachute Sunday, a state gas well inspector says.

“We know what happened, but we really don’t know why,” said Jaime Adkins, northwest area engineer for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in Parachute.

He suspects that a rig worker made a mistake in flushing the well bore or in judging the proper amount of cement to use for the well casing.



The Halliburton well-servicing crew finished cementing the well’s casing in the early hours of Sunday and had begun dismantling the drill rig, Adkins said. Equipment to complete the well was to be brought in later, and gas wouldn’t be expected to flow at that point in the drilling process.

But two hours later, shortly before 4 a.m., natural gas under pressure erupted in the doughnut-shaped gap between the well bore and the casing, blowing concrete out of the hole, Adkins said.



“That’s not supposed to happen,” he said. “The weight of the cement is supposed to be high enough to balance the pressure from the gas.”

And worse, something sparked the gas, causing a fire.

Steve Soychak, Parachute district manager for Williams, credits Grand Valley Fire District volunteers for responding quickly to the scene. Firefighters worked closely with the rig crew to put the fire out by 11:15 a.m., Soychak said.

The well was re-cemented and capped by 11 p.m. Sunday.

No one was injured in the mishap.

Separate investigations are now under way by Williams company officials, Adkins, Halliburton and Cyclone, the company that owns the drilling rig.

Soychak said the investigations are aimed at finding out why the well ruptured and what sparked the gas.

At issue is which company will pay for damages to the drilling rig and for repair work needed to complete the well and put it into production.

A citation from the state regulatory agency is also possible, Adkins said.

“There was no underground blowout, no groundwater damage, pollution or contamination,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean it was safe. When they lost control of the well, that was unacceptable.”

Soychak said the well was being drilled on a pad occupied by an older shut-in well. It was the second directional well to be drilled from that pad, about two miles east of Parachute.

The Cyclone rig is one of 10 Williams has hired to drill for natural gas in western Garfield County.

Soychak called the rupture and fire very unusual, and said the risk for such a mishap is very low.

“We have drilled over 820 wells out here, and this has never happened before,” he said. “The industry has worked diligently to keep these things from happening.”

He said this incident is different from a blowout at an EnCana well that occured last July near Grass Mesa, south of Rifle.

In that case, the gas well was already completed when a small piece of iron was hurled up the well, damaging the well head and causing a rupture, Adkins said. The gas did not catch fire, but no one has been able to explain how the errant piece of metal got into the well.

Contact Heather McGregor: 945-8515, ext 517

hmcgregor@postindependent.com


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