Fracking fire reported at Williams’ natural gas well near Rifle

As the debate over hydraulic fracturing and health issues related to natural gas drilling has heated up in Garfield County in recent weeks, KJCT News 8 in Grand Junction today is reporting an early morning fire at a Williams’ well eight miles south of Rifle.

The fire was reportedly put out in about an hour and half, with minimal damage and no injuries, but the incident is sure to prompt even more calls for tighter local regulation of the oil and gas industry. Williams is the most active drilling company in Garfield County, which saw the second most drilling permits issued in the state in 2010.

Denver-based Antero is seeking state permission to increase well density in two subdivisions near Silt, and is also negotiating a 200-well project in the retirement community of Battlement Mesa, where some residents are worried about toxic fumes and potential accidents. Garfield County officials recently criticized state drilling regulations as being insufficient to properly ensure public safety and health. The industry is legally challenging the state’s current regulations.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the commonly used process of injecting water, sand and undisclosed chemicals under very high pressure deep into gas wells to crack open sandstone and free up more gas. There is a national push to require disclosure of chemical formulas, which oil and gas companies claim are proprietary.

This from the KJCT News 8 website:

“Williams spokeswoman Susan Alvillar says smaller fires associated with [fracking] are not uncommon. She explained that after wells are drilled, sand and water are pushed into the well to help release natural gas from deep inside the ground.

“In order to allow the natural gas to reach the surface, the sand and water are removed, and the water is pumped into several tanks. The water can contain flammable hydrocarbons. She says these flammable materials can lead to fires, but that crews are trained to either put them out themselves or let them burn out on their own. She says the fire departments are often called to the scene as a backup measure.”

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