An investigation into what may have caused the fire in July at WPX’s production site near Nageezi, N.M. is now complete. A recent photo of the site is provided with this post.
To help understand the most likely cause of the incident, WPX commissioned Advanced Engineering Investigations Corporation (AEI) to conduct an assessment.
AEI staff has more than 100 years of experience performing investigations throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico and overseas. AEI’s research was led by a forensic engineer with nearly 25 years of experience and reviewed by an AEI investigator who has more than 10 professional certifications in firefighting, materials handling and evidence collection.
The 90-plus day engineering review included interviews with 12 individuals from five companies who were either on-scene at the onset of the fire or have direct working knowledge of the production site, which has since been reclaimed.
Results of the research point to the possibility of an apparent equipment failure. Evidence suggests the fire started at a transfer pump which was used to move oil between temporary storage tanks that were on-site for the startup of new oil wells.
The initial fire was likely fed by oil within manifolds and hoses that were connected to the transfer pump, causing the fire to spread to other equipment and tanks at the site.
AEI’s opinion is based on upon a reasonable degree of scientific and engineering certainty using the information at-hand and with respect to the extensive damage to equipment that is inherent in an event like this.
To reduce the possibility of a re-occurrence, WPX has since taken additional steps to improve safety during flowback operations when its new wells in the basin start to produce. These actions include:
- Replacing aluminum lines with steel lines
- Increasing inspections on equipment
- Increasing the amount of spacing between certain types of equipment
- Filling and isolating storage tanks individually where possible
Personnel who were working at the site when the fire started – along with residents who live near the five-acre property – were all safely evacuated. WPX provided lodging, meals and support to displaced residents throughout the event.
Overall, WPX invested more than $1.5 million in emergency response, repair and reclamation work, care for local stakeholders and environmental protection related to the fire. These costs include services WPX enlisted from five environmental contractors to monitor air quality during the event.
All six of the new oil wells at the site were safely shut-in at the onset of the fire and have since been returned to service. The oil and water produced from these wells now flows to permanent storage tanks located a half-mile away via underground gathering pipes.
Lucas Smith, who leads WPX’s safety department, said, “We work very hard to prevent accidents. That’s our first priority. If an incident does occur, we use it as a learning opportunity. We’re always striving to get better.”