Lessons from Colorado’s flooded oil and gas fields
By Mark Jaffe
The Denver Post
The oil and gas industry swept away
Oil and gas companies in theColorado’s flood soaked Denver-Julesburg Basin say they are drawing lessons from 500-year flood that swept across hundreds of square miles of the Front Range. One of the biggest of those lessons was that earth berms got washed away and with them tanks storing oil and water. Metal berms — which are really more like fences -– held in even floating tanks. There have been spills of 1,042 barrels of petroleum fluids and 430 barrels of production water, containing well impurities, for a total of nearly 62,000 gallons, according to the state. Almost all that came from dislodged tanks or valves or pipes connected to tanks.
“We’ll look for anything in the lower flood plain with steel containment. … These held up really well,” said Dan Kelly, Noble Energy vice president for the DJ Basin. Noble is the largest oil and gas operator in the basin with about 8,000 wells.
Noble has been using steel containment on all new wells, but there were old, legacy wells that had earthen works and the state recorded spills at four Noble sites totaling about 9,700 gallons.
When developing this site Encana used a steel fences around its oil and gas tanks — The Denver Post
Encana Corp., the fourth largest operator in the basin, with about 1,100 wells, has during the last three years replaced earthen berms with the steel fences at its 425 tank batteries, said Pete Straub, the company’s head of DJ Basin field operations.
“We had some produced water tanks that that been buried and were light and floated, but nothing floated away,” Straub said.
The other technology that companies said served them well was the telemetry systems which enabled wells to be shut-in remotely.
“We have the capability to close wells within a matter of minutes,” said Ted Brown, a Noble senior vice president. Noble closed 758 wells as the rains started to become heavy – some by radio, some manually. About 394 remain closed, the company said.
Noble has a control room in its Greeley headquarters where it can monitor all its wells. For Encana, whose Longmont office were surrounded by flood waters, many of the 397 wells it shut-in where handled by a Encana employee with a laptop and an Aircard, Straub said.
“It gives use flexibility … and it worked,” Straub said. Encana still has 61 wells shut, some for production reasons and some because the ground around them is still not firm, Straub said.
At the peak of the flooding a total of 1,900 wells were shut-in. For a breakdown of spills by company see my Sept. 23 and Sept. 25 blog posts.
The companies say they are now conducting full reviews as is the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. “Nothing is fortunate about this but we will take the knowledge we’ve gained in the last two to three weeks and we will absolutely incorporate into future plans,” Noble’s Kelly said.
The concern of environmental and conservation groups, however, is that oil and gas operations shouldn’t be located in the flood plains, regardless of the technology.
“You are putting industrial activity and potential pollution in harms way,” said Gary Wockner, Colorado program director for Clean Water Action. “Oil and gas activities have to be more tightly regulated in flood plains.”
“We’ll sit down with regulators and go through all this because I know there is a lot of talk about that right now,” said Noble’s Brown.