‘In An Abundance Of Caution,’ 3,000 Oil And Gas Wells Shut Down In Colorado

Originally published on April 28, 2017 9:16 am

The largest oil and gas producer in Colorado has temporarily shut down 3,000 wells as an investigation into the explosion of a house where two people died continues.

“The investigation into the cause and origin of the April 17 explosion and fire is ongoing and a cause has not yet been determined,” the director of the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission,  Matthew Lepore, said of the house in Firestone, Colo.

Brothers-in-law Mark Martinez and Joey Irwin died in the blast and Martinez's wife, Erin, was seriously burned.

An Anadarko Petroleum Corp. well was operating about 200 feet from the home in the small town about 30 miles north of Denver. "In an abundance of caution,” the company has halted production at 3,000 so-called vertical wells across northeast Colorado that churn 13,000 “net barrels of oil equivalent” per day, a statement from Anadarko said.

"The wells will remain shut in until the company's field personnel can conduct additional inspections and testing of the associated equipment, such as facilities and underground lines associated with each wellhead,” the statement added. “Particular focus is being placed on areas where housing and commercial developments are occurring in close proximity to existing infrastructure. The wells will not be restarted until each has undergone and passed these additional inspections.”

The well in question was drilled in 1993. Those being inspected are “of the same vintage,” the company stated, in a process that's estimated to take two to four weeks to complete.

There are 54,000 active wells in Colorado and the state has long been at the center of a national debate on oil and gas drilling and its proximity to homes and schools.

There have been safety issues in the past. In 2005 and 2007 two homes built on top of abandoned wells exploded in southwestern Colorado. In February of 2005, a trailer home exploded at Bondad Hill in La Plata County. An investigation found that methane gas in a coal-bed seam likely traveled through an old well buried under the house. In April of 2007, a house under construction in Las Animas County exploded, injuring three workers and destroying the home. The cause was later determined to be an old improperly plugged coal-bed methane well where house had been built.  

Several state lawmakers are waiting to see the results of the investigation before looking at any possible rule changes regarding how close oil and gas operations can be to homes.

Meanwhile, Lepore said the commission is working with fire and local authorities at a news conference. He said there are “joint efforts to ensure the safety of neighboring residents and to fully understand what led to the tragedy.”

“There is no immediate threat to the environment or public safety associated with oil and gas operations in the neighborhood," he said.

The COGCC is “charged with fostering the responsible development of Colorado's oil and gas natural resources in a manner consistent with the protection of public health, safety, and welfare, including the environment and wildlife resources,” according to its website.

Firestone is in Weld County in northeastern Colorado. Boulder County to its west has adopted what it deems the most restrictive oil and gas regulations in the state. Boulder County Commissioners released a statement amid calling on other companies to shut down wells and inspect them for safety. 

"In response to the explosion in Firestone, we call on all oil and gas operators in Boulder County to shut down their vertical wells, just as Anadarko has, until they can assure our residents that these wells do not pose similar safety risks in Boulder County," a joint statement from the commissioners said.  

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