Ablaze for Week, WY Well Fire Out

Friday, September 18, 2015 @ 04:09 PM gHale

An oil well fire that burned for more than a week at a Chesapeake Energy oil site near Douglas, WY, is now out, company officials said.

A Chesapeake team and crews from the oilfield firefighting outfit Boots and Coots capped the final three burning wells at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Chesapeake spokesman Gordon Pennoyer said. Crews capped two other wells affected by the fire last Friday and a third over last weekend.

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The blaze began Sept. 6 and spread to all six wells at the site north of Douglas. No one suffered an injury in the blaze, though some residents in the area reported symptoms such as dizziness, nausea and burning sensations in the eyes, nose and throat.

While the cause remains under investigation, some details about the start of the fire have emerged. Last week, Wyoming Oil and Gas Supervisor Mark Watson confirmed local accounts Chesapeake had been pumping methanol into the wells before the fire ignited. Methanol is one substance workers use to clean a well.

The company had apparently been trying to clear the well of hydrates that were blocking its flow, but it’s unclear whether that cleaning operation caused the fire.

The company installed 17 air monitors around the fire to monitor particulate matter and volatile organic compounds, a series of harmful pollutants that can create ozone under the right conditions.

Air monitor readings continue to indicate there is no risk to public health from the fire, Pennoyer said.

State regulators visited the site and will return there again to access possible environmental impacts, said Keith Guille, a spokesperson for the Department of Environmental Quality. If there are any, the state will work with the company to address them, he added.

Guille said he was not aware of any public health concerns related to air quality.

“Chesapeake, their response to this was fairly fast, especially with the air quality monitoring,” Guille said. “That was really important from our standpoint — to make sure human health was not impacted by this blowout.”

Residents of the area reported a thin oily residue accumulating on homes and cars last week.

In an earlier press release, Chesapeake described the residue as a mixture of water and hydrocarbons. The Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health, a consulting firm monitoring the blaze, did not believe the residue posed a risk to public health, Chesapeake said.

The residue will be one of the things that state regulators will investigate when they visit the site, Guille said. If residents have any immediate health concerns, he recommended they speak with a doctor.

Chesapeake is still reviewing the cause of the fire. Guille said the company will provide the state with a report on the fire. That process took a month or two after the last blowout, he said.