One of the area’s natural-gas and oil exploration and production companies will conduct a full-scale emergency drill today, calling in emergency responders from across the county to test response times and processes.
WPX Energy, which split from Williams earlier this year, will simulate an incident where well operators lose control of well pressure, leading to an uncontrolled release of natural gas, said Bill Robertson, an energy safety specialist with the company. The well, which will actually be spewing air during the drill, is located on County Road 319 about a mile from downtown Ignacio.
The company conducts full-scale drills once every three years to execute “long-standing emergency-response plans,” Robertson said. Regular safety drills and tests are not required by a state or federal regulatory agencies, but are recommended by the American Petroleum Institute, Robertson said.
The hope also is to give the community some sense of security and reassurance that the company is ensuring it effectively responds to emergencies, said Susan Alvillar, a spokeswoman with WPX.
WPX “does not recall” any specific incidents other than wildfires that have triggered the company’s emergency-response plan, Alvillar wrote in an email.
Emergency responders from La Plata County, Ignacio, Colorado State Patrol, WPX, Durango Fire & Rescue Authority and others are expected to be at the well site sometime between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. today.
The company reviewed its emergency-response plans at an open house Tuesday in anticipation of the simulated incident.
Residents within 2,000 feet of the well were notified of the emergency drill, and they were invited to the open house, but the event was not open to the general public.
Representatives from Mercy Regional Medical Center were on site to learn more about the emergency-response process, the industry’s equipment and procedures and the terms used to describe them, said Mary Jo Seiter, a clinical coordinator and registered nurse in the emergency department at the hospital.
“I want to know what are the multitudes of potential,” Seiter said. It also helps to know how many people work on drill sites and how many may be affected if an emergency occurs, she said.
“There is always more to learn because their industry keeps changing,” she said.
After the drill, participants will meet with WPX to debrief and assess their response.
WPX oversees 187 operating wells in La Plata County. There are 3,333 active natural gas and oil wells in the county.