WY Wells Ablaze; 2 of 6 Capped

Tuesday, September 15, 2015 @ 01:09 PM gHale

Two of the six oil wells burning at a Chesapeake Energy well pad north of Douglas, WY, ended up capped Friday after the fires started the previous Sunday , company officials said.

Crews from the oilfield firefighting outfit Boots and Coots attempted what a “top kill,” said Wyoming Oil and Gas Supervisor Mark Watson, pumping KCL water down the wells at high pressure. KCL water is a salty mixture used to extinguish oilfield blazes.

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“They are going to try today, and then do some of it tomorrow,” Watson said Friday before the company reported they successfully caped two of the wells.

Watson’s comments came as the blaze entered its sixth day and amid growing concerns in Douglas about the threats it posed. Residents reported a thin oily residue settling on homes and car windshields Friday.

In a company release, Chesapeake said the residue appeared to be a mixture of water and hydrocarbons. The substance is not a public health risk according to the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health, a consulting firm monitoring the blaze, Chesapeake said.

Residents, however, that come into contact with the residue should wash the contact area with soap and water, the company said.

Others complained of a “strong stench” emanating from the well on Thursday afternoon.

One resident reported the smell to local authorities, who said it was the result of foam sprayed on the burning wells.

Keith Guille, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Quality, said the smell could be from the residue residents have been seeing, though he noted he could not be sure of the odor’s source.

Chesapeake installed 17 air monitors around the fire. They are monitoring for particulate matter and volatile organic compounds, a series of harmful pollutants that can create ozone under the right conditions.

The company’s air monitors have not detected dangerously high levels of any compound at this point, Guille said.

Converse County Sheriff Clint Becker said he was aware of the residue, but not of complaints over the smell. The sheriff said he has been in regular contact with the company and did not fear potential public health impacts.

A general outline about the start of the blaze also began to emerge Friday.

Watson confirmed local accounts that Chesapeake had been pumping methanol into the affected wells before the blaze started.

Methanol ends up used frequently to clean a well. Chesapeake had been trying to clear the well of hydrates blocking its flow, a common industry procedure, Watson said.

However, whether the cleaning operation was responsible for the fire remained unclear. “They have given us updates going forward; they haven’t gone backwards,” Watson said.

The state will investigate the incident and determine whether any reclamation and enforcement action will end up required once the flames are out, he said.