Firefighters decided not to warn residents during chemical fire

B Pad all cleaned up and ready for Ursa inspection after floods and chemical fire. [Photo taken 3-12-17 & submitted by Battlement Mesa resident]

A series of mishaps at the pipeline construction site (Ursa’s new B pad) in Battlement Mesa highlights the hazards of residential drilling.

Last week firefighters from the Grand Valley Fire Protection District (GVFPD) were called to extinguish what turned out to be a chemical fire at the construction/well pad site.

Crews put out fire at Battlement Mesa pipeline site

Firefighters this week extinguished a fire at what has proven to be a problematic pipeline project site where Ursa Resources is planning to drill for natural gas in the residential community of Battlement Mesa.

Dave Devanney with the group Battlement Concerned Citizens said the incident happened Wednesday night.

Pipeline company Summit Midstream said in a statement that the fire involved activated foaming grout that was left over following work to place sealing grout around installed pipelines. The grout was used in an effort to stop heavy flows of groundwater encountered while boring to install the lines.

The leftover grout was in a preconstructed earthen berm used for mixing the product, the company said.

“A chemical reaction occurred in the berm leading to heat and ultimately a small fire. Summit Midstream immediately contacted the local fire department to extinguish the flame,” the company said.

It said that following the fire, the contractor involved, Rock Solid, removed the material and cleaned the site …

A Post Independent article reported:

… Don Simpson, vice president of business development for Ursa, said in an email Saturday that “the excess grout mix was in placed in a safe open place with berms, as designed for safety.”

“Summit employees stayed at the site during the night to make sure that it remained secure,” Simpson wrote. “The smoldering began prior to midnight [and] the site was attended to the entire night” …

From the Styx has obtained a copy of the GVFPD incident report that states the fire and smoke plume were the result of spontaneous combustion caused by a chemical reaction.

The report reveals several unsettling details:

  • Approximately six 55-gallon drums of chemicals were dumped into a 10X10 pit for disposal.
  • The product Grout Flex contains the toxic chemical that spontaneously combusted in the above ground pit on the construction site.
  • The chemical fire caused a dark, black plume of smoke that rose 100-200 feet high.
  • The chemical manufacturer told Summit Midstream that the substance was “highly toxic” when burned.
  • Firefighters requested and wore personal protective equipment (PPE) and self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBA).
  • Even though it was a smoldering “highly toxic” chemical fire that emitted a plume of smoke there were no evacuations.

Let’s review that again. There was a smoldering chemical fire lasting more than an hour that emitted a highly toxic plume of black smoke. The firefighters wore SCBAs but no one was evacuated. No one was warned.

The report states:  “The plume was going straight into the air and expose probability seemed minimal so no evacuations were made.”

That does not appear to be a decision based on scientific evidence or in the best interest of public safety.

Included with the incident report was an email to Battlement Concerned Citizens (BCC) from Deputy Fire Chief Rob Ferguson in which he stated:

… The investigation ended up showing that the pit was dug too steep and wouldn’t allow the product to evaporate. This left the product in at state where it was able to generate enough heat in the pit to spontaneously ignite the foam product that was suppose to evaporate so they could go back in and reclaim the water by products. I received this information from Kirby Wynn with Garfield County …

So once again, Summit Midstream’s sloppy construction practices caused yet another major problem on a project plagued by one quagmire after another.

Prior to the chemical fire, there were two underground water breaches on January 18 and February 23, when Summit Midstream workers, not once but twice, hit an underground water source while boring the pipeline hole from the B Pad to the D Pad, resulting in flood events. For several weeks, hundreds of thousands of barrels of water were trucked offsite and diverted to the Colorado River.

The week before the first underground water breach, the site was visited on January 12 and 13 by a COGCC field inspector who “observed improper practices at the BMC B and BMC D Pad pipeline staging areas that would not be in compliance with COGCC rules, including inadequate topsoil protection, insufficient stormwater management, and a lack of effective stormwater controls.” Both well pads will be under COGCC jurisdiction when the pipeline is finished and Ursa takes over operations.

Asked about the recent chemical fire, BCC’s Dave Devanney told the Daily Sentinel: “This is why an oil and gas operation should not be taking place in communities. We were fortunate this time that there was not a catastrophic incident, but it makes residents wary and anxious and nervous about future operations near our homes and where we live, work and play.”

Perhaps Devanney is being too generous. Of course none of this is his responsibility. All of the Battlement residents are simply trying to get through this process as best they can.

But for those of us viewing this residential drilling experiment from the sidelines, we would hope that in the event of highly toxic emissions from a black plume caused by a chemical fire our local firefighters would do more than protect themselves.

At the very least, Battlement residents should have received a reverse 911 call to alert them about a highly toxic plume caused by a chemical fire so they could have had the option to evacuate. Instead the firefighters took that decision away from them.

An even more disturbing aspect to this is that firefighters apparently didn’t follow the protocol from the GVFPD Emergency Operations Plan, which indicates they should have called for a Level 1 Green alert for residents to prepare for possible evacuation.  Upon arriving at the scene last Wednesday night, the firefighters could not have possibly known how long it would take to extinguish the fire, or how long the toxic plume would linger, as well as variability of temperature and wind velocity and direction, which is what truly determines the spread of a toxic plume.

Evidently GVFPD needs a refresher course.

Or maybe those green-yellow-red alert levels don’t apply to oil & gas operations.


Please note, the headline is inaccurate in today’s Post Independent article:  Battlement Mesa fire had potential for ‘highly toxic’ fumes

The incident report clearly says: “the manufacturer states that the substance is ‘highly toxic’ when on fire.”

Furthermore the report also states: “Nation response network was notified of the spill and fire who then notified all appropriate federal agencies …”

“Nation response network” is a reference to the National Response Center (NRC), part of the federally established National Response System, which is the designated contact for reporting all oil, chemical, radiological, biological and etiological discharges into the environment, anywhere in the United States and its territories.  That means a chemical spill and fire did occur.

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One Comment on “Firefighters decided not to warn residents during chemical fire”

  1. Phillip Doe Says:

    An amazingly cavalier response! One has to wonder how differently the response team would have acted if it were one of their neighborhoods that was threatened?

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