Update — May 29, 2014
HCN — Massive Colorado mudslide nearly clobbered gas wells
How much should energy developers plan for natural disaster?
Update — May 28, 2014
The West Salt Creek landslide measured 2.8. A summary is now posted at USGS.
Snippets from today’s article in The Daily Sentinel:
Tomb of mud [subscribers only]
Effort to find 3 mudslide victims suspended; searchers clear area, with more slides feared
… A huge block of earth scarred by stress cracks hangs above the scene and could collapse at any time, said Jonathan White, a geologist from the Colorado School of Mines who reviewed photographs of the scene and answered questions at Tuesday’s press conference.
One photo showed a waterfall coming off the top of Grand Mesa flowing into the area of the recess …
… The water has caused a 100-foot-deep, 700-foot-wide recess to open up behind the twisted, earthen block, which is rapidly filling with water from West Salt Creek …
… Hilkey said his team is hoping the slab will turn out to be stronger than they believe and stabilize, creating a semi-permanent pond.
The new pond will also eventually collapse, White said, but probably after an even longer period.
The county is working with the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Geological Survey to develop a monitoring plan and potentially an early warning system to keep residents informed of any changes in the landscape that could pose a threat, Hilkey said.
White quickly dismissed any suggestion that the slide may have been caused by hydraulic fracturing operations in the area.
“I don’t see how that’s possible,” he said.
White called “soft mud stones” were the cause of the slide, which started when the soft earth overlaying the hard lava cap of the mesa became saturated from rains.
Grand Mesa is “ringed by giant landslides,” he said …
… The water caused rocks and earth to turn into a kind of “liquid concrete” before tumbling down the mountainside in one minute or less, White said.
Nichols, his son and Hawkins probably didn’t have a chance to escape the 170-foot-tall wall of fast-moving rock and earth that came at them, he said.
A well pad with three natural gas wells situated at the toe of the slide was not affected, according to the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association.
Occidental Petroleum, which owns the wells, shut them down manually and conducted a physical assessment of the equipment Monday. Connective pipelines associated with the natural gas wells were depressurized and drained, the association said.
The wells were monitored remotely using telemetry on Sunday and showed no signs of spills or releases, the association said …
New video shows Google Earth images of well pads before the slide:
These Google Earth images show alternate views of the slide area before. The slide is outlined in white.
News and updates begin here:
KKCO-Ch 11 — Search efforts unsafe, challenging after mudslide
Aspen Times — Three missing in Mesa County mudslide
Meanwhile, the affected well pad hosts three active natural gas wells located along Salt Creek Road, West Slope COGA spokesman David Ludlam said in a news release.
“The wells were monitored remotely using telemetry and on Sunday showed no signs of spills or releases,” the release said.
Telemetry is the wireless transmission of data. Cell service is out in that region so I don’t believe this.
“Out of an abundance of caution, companies shut down the natural gas wells manually also conducting a physical assessment of the equipment,” Ludlam said. “Connective pipelines associated with the natural gas wells were depressurized and drained.
Unless these guys are psychic these “precautions” were done after the landslide. Pipelines aren’t mapped. So we have no clue how much pipeline was involved in the slide. Oxy probably knows.
A limited number of nonproducing natural gas wells may have also been affected, but pose no immediate risk factors to the public or environment, according to WSCOGA.
Unless they were being used as injection wells, in which case they contained frackwater.
Ludlam said that natural gas companies follow stringent emergency protocols during major weather events.
“We are pleased with preliminary reports showing minimally affected oil and gas production equipment,” he said, adding Oxy manually shut down the small number of wells at risk.
“We believe all potentially affected natural gas locations are secure,” Ludlam said.
Operators are also monitoring all Plateau Valley locations this week ensuring no new slide movements are detected.
He said the association and its member companies will stay in communication with the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission and local emergency response officials if the mudslide poses any additional risks to natural gas wells.
Ludlam said the industry is also determining how it can assist residents of Plateau Valley in the search and rescue and cleanup efforts.
West Slope COGA plans to establish a “Caring for Collbran” response fund to coordinate industry donations.
While the surrounding area is popular place for fishing, hiking and camping, the slide hit on land with an access gate that isn’t open to the public. No one else is believed missing, and no homes were damaged.
Hilkey said he’d received a telephone call from authorities in Washington state, where a March 22 landslide swept a square mile of dirt, sand and silt through a neighborhood in Oso, about an hour northeast of Seattle. That slide leveled homes and killed at least 43 people.
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