Weld oil, gas companies report minimal failures in flow lines inspections | MyWindsorNow.com

Weld oil, gas companies report minimal failures in flow lines inspections

Sharon Dunn
sdunn@greeleytribune.com

A well pad positioned in a residential neighborhood a few blocks from the charred remains of a house where an unrefined petroleum industry gas line leak explosion killed two people inside their home, in Firestone. Fire officials said that an investigation has revealed that the April 17 explosion was caused by unrefined natural gas that was leaking from a small abandoned pipeline from a nearby well owned.

Of the nearly 250,000 oil and gas flow lines tested throughout Colorado since a massive home explosion in Firestone in April, many of Weld's oil and gas operators are reporting few lines failed.

Although there's no official word on what this whole event will mean for the future, some companies are taking matters into their own hands and systematically putting the clamp on their older vertical oil and gas wells, which are the root of the flow line problem.

The state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which ordered all oil and gas companies to test all flow lines existing within 1,000 feet of a building by the end of June, is still busy digesting the slew of data and have come to no conclusions on future actions or requirements.

Authorities have pinpointed a severed flow line that was thought to be abandoned but was still connected to an operating vertical oil and gas well as the cause of the explosion that killed two people.

But any new requirements on further inspections or future actions that could be associated those flow lines have yet to be discussed.

"Right now, COGCC's focus is to work with operators to ensure all the data is provided uniformly so that COGCC has an accurate picture," wrote Todd Hartman, spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the COGCC, in an email. "This will continue to take time. … In the weeks and months to come, COGCC will be paying closest attention to facilities where equipment is more spread out, such as lengthier distances between tanks and wells. Those will, generally, have a higher priority for review than sites where wells, separators and tanks (and associated flow lines) are co-located."

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Anadarko Petroleum and Noble Energy together comprise more than 80 percent of the oil and gas production in Weld County. Anadarko tested 4,000 flow lines with a 99.6 percent pass rate; Noble Energy tested more than 3,300 flow lines with a 99.5 percent pass rate.

Lowell Lewis of Greeley, who heads up the grassroots community group called Weld Air and Water, said while he was still concerned with health effects of drilling, he was surprised at the 1 percent failure rate.

"All things considered, 1 percent is not bad," Lewis said. "I might have expected worse. … People have been working on these oil and gas lines for how many decades, and how many times have the standards improved or new rules come to pass? We're looking at all of the history and we're seeing present and past and coming up with 1 percent, and that's not bad."

Other larger operators in Weld County reported similar results as the two leaders. But there are early indications in the industry those lines, all associated with older, vertical wells drilled 20-30 years ago, may be a thing of the past as companies transition from their older programs.

"We've always said we're going to get rid of all vertical wells," said John Richardson, investor relations manager for SRC Energy, which drills in and around Greeley. "They're more expensive to operate. We'll (just) accelerate that now.

"We expect by the first quarter of next year, all of our verticals will be plugged and abandoned, other than a small handful that are holding acreage for us. That's been the plan all along. They're not efficient wells to have, anyway."

Today, most wells are drilled horizontally. That process is better technologically and offers better efficiency and offer less risk of a flow line leak like the one linked to the house explosion.

Like SRC Energy, Extraction officials, too, report they will continue to shut in vertical wells.

"Wherever we safely develop oil and natural gas reservoirs through horizontal drilling, we always seek ways to minimize the impacts of development and beautify the community, often by seeking to plug and reclaim nearby legacy vertical wells, and returning that acreage to the landowner or community," according to a statement from the company. "We have plugged 18 vertical wells so far this year with approximately 22 on the list for the remainder of the year, and possibly more."

Flow line testing

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission ordered all oil and gas companies in the state to test all flow lines associated with wells within 1,000 feet of buildings following a home explosion in April in Firestone. Here are results from the major Weld County operators:

» Anadarko Petroleum tested 4,000 flow lines with a 99.6 percent pass rate.

» Noble Energy tested more than 3,300 flow lines with a 99.5 percent pass rate.

» PDC Energy tested 1,500 flow lines, with a 99.7 percent pass rate.

» SRC Energy, formerly Synergy Resources, tested a little over 1,000 lines involved with about 250 wells. Company officials did not report their pass rate but reported all issues found were corrected.

» Extraction Oil and Gas tested 2,091 lines with a 99.3 percent pass rate.

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