Well Blowout Forces Evacuation

Monday, March 12, 2012 @ 03:03 PM gHale

A well blowout south of Artesia, NM, was a “critical situation” and led to the evacuation of several rural homes after a potentially deadly gas released into the air, officials said.

The Eddy County Sheriff’s Office and emergency responders received the report of the blowout at around 5 p.m. Wednesday and immediately responded to the site of the blowout, said Capt. Jeff Zuniga.

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“We’re manning the roadblocks throughout the situation, which is considered a critical incident since it involves exposure to hydrogen sulfide (H2S, a poisonous gas).”

As of Thursday afternoon, Zuniga said, roadblocks were set up and making sure the area remained evacuated.

The company responsible for the well is Nadel Guusman Heyco out of Roswell, NM, which said that crews were doing routine maintenance when problems developed into a well containment issue.

Heyco General Manager Scott Germann said no one was hurt in the incident, but Eddy County officials made the decision to evacuate the area as a safety precaution.

“It is mostly a rural area, but some residents were affected,” said Zuniga.

Residents are staying at hotels for the night and Zuniga said they will get some compensation for their losses at this point.

“Hydrogen sulfide is a naturally occurring gas and something we are aware of in the oilfield. Oilfield workers have equipment to deal with it, but we do have some incidents,” Zuniga said.

People exposed to the poisonous gas will first smell something similar to rotten eggs, but once the smell overwhelms the olfactory glands and is gone, it becomes dangerous and can lead to death, said Zuniga, who has had training on the issue.

Workers caught a lucky break Thursday when the unusually cool and barely breezy weather helped dissipate and diffuse the gas from the air, shifting it away from residences.

They contained the well Thursday and clean-up was on schedule for over the weekend, said Heyco spokeswoman Lauren Yates.

Germann said the company will conduct a follow-up into the blowout in order to make improvements to prevent future incidents.