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Drill rig fire was instructive

The Feb. 22 fire at a Williams Production Co. rig near Parachute points out the risk of extracting a highly flammable gas from deep underground.

It’s rare, but drilling companies can sometimes lose control of the operation. That happened at 4 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 22, when a concrete seal on the well failed to hold against the pressure of the gas, causing gas to spew from a small blowout preventer pipe at the side of the well.

And worse, something sparked the gas, starting a fire that took hours to put out.



Oddly enough, that was a good time for a well fire, since the Grand Valley Fire District relies on volunteers, and most of them were at home (and asleep) when the fire call went out.

After the fire, gas company and fire district officials went far in thanking each other for the high level of cooperation that allowed firefighters and gas company experts to devise a plan and put the fire out.



Fire Chief David Blair said Williams and EnCana, the two leading gas operators in Garfield County, have worked with his crews on preparing for gas rig and compressor station fires.

But not everyone has the same level of training, and there are times when many volunteers are at work, far from Parachute.

Moreover, as gas drilling continues, not all the well sites will be so easy to reach. And an out-of-control well fire in the summer months would be a different beast entirely.

The Feb. 22 incident went well. No one was injured. The rig did not topple, although it was damaged.

But it is a clear reminder that gas drilling carries inherent risks that become more extreme when gas wells are close to homes or in remote locations, and during the wildfire-prone summer months.

Fire districts and gas companies need to be sure their emergency plans can hold up even when circumstances are not in their favor.


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