Pine Ridge Fire, CO and Natural Gas Drilling

The Pine Ridge fire in western Colorado near De Beque grew rapidly since our post last week, but responders report that they’ve got it 65% contained today.  Some rare good news during this fierce fire season out West.  Drought, poor snowpack, shorter winters, warmer temperatures and widespread tree die-off due to insect infestations are creating conditions that suggest wildfires in the Rockies will be getting bigger, meaner and more frequent in the years ahead.

In the meantime, we’ve got wildfires in Colorado and Wyoming burning in close proximity to natural-gas wells, pipelines and other infrastructure.  I’ve gotten a couple of comments assuring me that this hardware is designed to withstand wildfires.  Sure, but deepwater oil wells are also designed to withstand blowouts.  Anything built and maintained by us humans is bound to be less than perfect.  Thankfully I haven’t heard yet of any wildfire-related problems, but the simple fact that natural-gas infrastructure is know to be “leaky” probably makes it riskier to deal with wildfire in a gas field.  For the Pine Ridge fire, operators have shut in their gas wells (temporarily suspending production), apparently at the behest of federal land managers at the BLM.

This fire spurred me to get the latest information on the extent of the burned area and the locations of active gas and oil wells.  Well locations are indicated by colored dots.  The red line shows the extent of burned area from the Pine Ridge fire as of July 2.  Backdrop is the default high-resolution aerial survey photography in Google Earth:

Map showing locations of active gas and oil wells (colored dots) and extent of burned area from Pine Ridge fire (red line) as of July 2, 2012.