Residents evacuate after gas well accident
Post Independent Staff
with wire reports
RIFLE – Residents of seven homes on Grass Mesa subdivision and 12 homes along West Mamm Creek were evacuated after a well-head accident at an EnCana gas well at 9:15 a.m. Thursday sent natural gas spewing into the air.
There were no injuries, and the gas never caught fire, said Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario.
Gas spewed from the damaged well head for nearly six hours, but pressure dropped as workers shut down the well.
EnCana representative Sher Long said the well was repaired at 3:30 p.m., and Vallario lifted the evacuation order at 4 p.m.
Vallario thanked the evacuees for their cooperation. “This was an emergency that turned out good for us,” he said.
“This is a rare occurrence,” EnCana spokesman Doug Jones, a 22-year oil and gas industry veteran, told evacuees.
EnCana staffers in Rifle said they’d never seen a well head blow out like the one on Thursday.
Jones said the 8,309-foot-deep well was completed in the past day or two, and is located on the J.V. Rose ranch, approximately five miles south of Interstate 70, and 1.5 miles west of Mamm Creek Road.
County Road 319 and County Road 322 were closed for several hours while an EnCana contractor repaired the well head.
A well head is the part of a completed well that is above ground, and is used to control the flow of natural gas as it moves from the well to a pipeline, said EnCana representative Kathy Friesen.
Vallario set up an incident command center at the EnCana office in east Rifle, and emergency responders monitored U.S. Weather Service reports on computers.
With tinder dry conditions in the surrounding areas and a countywide fire ban in place, the risk of a fire was substantial. Sheriff’s deputies closed roads for a two-mile radius around the well to prevent anyone from coming in who might spark a fire.
Jones said the gas spewed straight into the air. Workers could not detect any gas at ground level.
Jones said EnCana will notify the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and will continue working with the sheriff’s department and Rifle Fire Protection District.
“There will be a complete investigation,” Jones said. EnCana staff said they did not know what caused the problem at the well head.
Vallario said the evacuation affected 26 residences within a two-mile radius of the well, but only 10 families left their homes.
“Some people were at work,” Vallario said. “One person was cutting hay, and he stayed.”
Jones said the closest house to the well was about 1.5 miles away.
Evacuees were housed in the meeting room at the Garfield County road and bridge headquarters near the Garfield County Airport. EnCana also offered them motel rooms.
Joe Paradise, who lives at 4949 County Road 319, spent several hours at the road and bridge headquarters. As Jones, Vallario and Friesen entered the headquarters to field questions and tell evacuees they could leave, they joked that maybe EnCana will pave County Road 319 after the well accident.
Jones handed out business cards, and told the evacuees EnCana will send out employees to check for gas in their homes and plumbers to light their pilot lights. There were no takers.
Paradise said during their stay at the road and bridge headquarters, some folks “chased their babies,” while others played cards and talked. Some of the evacuees hadn’t met before the drilling accident sent them from their homes.
“Everybody got to know each other a little bit,” Paradise said.
Assisting the Garfield County Sheriff’s Department in Thursday’s accident were the Rifle Fire Protection District, the Eagle River Fire District, Glenwood Springs Fire Department and the Red Cross.
Contact Lynn Burton: 945-8515, ext. 534
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