Details emerge from Windsor fracking fluid spew as company files incident report |

Details emerge from Windsor fracking fluid spew as company files incident report

Jason Pohl

Soil tests and groundwater samples indicate there was little to no contamination after a damaged oil and gas well north of Windsor sent 84,000 gallons of hydraulic fracturing fluid spewing horizontally for 30 hours earlier this month.

PDC Energy on Wednesday filed its comprehensive incident report with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission — protocol for all situations involving damaged wells. While the COGCC continues its investigation and determines what, if any, enforcement action is taken, the report sheds new light on exactly what happened and the environmental impacts stemming from the Feb. 11 incident.

The event itself was not inherently caused by fracking but instead by a "mechanical failure" that caused equipment to fall 30 feet and hit the well head, damaging the master valve handle while shearing the tubing hangar locking pin, the report indicates.

The well was "spud" on Dec. 20 and was fracked weeks before the mechanical failure sent greenish "flow-back fluid" shooting from the damaged port.

Windsor-Severance Fire Rescue immediately responded to the situation and stayed on scene throughout the event at the company's request. Because it was a hazardous material monitoring request, WSFR can legally charge the PDC Energy for services and manpower.

When it became clear a quick shut-off wouldn't be possible, company officials constructed a dirt recovery trench and containment pit to collect the fluids. "Approximately six vacuum trucks and five mobile tanks" ultimately captured the liquid, which was mostly water mixed with some oil and fracking additives, according to the report. Fluids were then moved off-site.

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In total, 40 soil samples were collected throughout and after the incident. Results indicated contamination of total petroleum hydrocarbons, benzene, toluene and ethylbenzene constituents were below state standards, the report indicates. Crews also excavated 18 inches of nearby soil after the well was capped at 4 p.m. Feb. 12. A second plug was later set to ensure containment.

The nearest body of surface water was about 1,800 feet to the west, and the shallowest groundwater in the area was 15 feet below the surface. Tests indicate it was not affected. Crews also monitored air quality for any "explosive" qualities, though none was reportedly found. The nearest home was 1,500 feet from the well.

"PDC believes the company's response struck the appropriate balance between safety and urgency," the group said in a statement responding to criticisms that it took too long to stop the spew. "…The company deeply regrets this unfortunate event, and believes an objective assessment will show the event was handled effectively and responsibly."

It was not immediately clear how long it would take before the well is back in operation and what changes, if any, PDC will make.

Officials from the COGCC will continue the investigation and eventually file a final report to determine whether any violations were made and if enforcement action is needed, Todd Hartman, a spokesman for the COGCC, said Wednesday.

"It will take some time to ensure that we have all of the details and to make our analysis complete," he added.

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