Skip to Navigation Skip to Main Content
David Minton - DRC

Denton gas well fire

Update: 4:05 p.m.

Initially, firefighters were letting the fire burn, said city spokeswoman Lindsey Baker. It’s the safest option — to consume the gas coming from the wellhead — until a well control company arrives, Baker said. 

After firefighters determined there was very little pressure coming from the wellhead, they thought it best to use foam on the tank battery and put the fire out. 

Once the fire was out, about 2:30 a.m., crews were able to shut the well in, Baker said. 

“This was the best case scenario,” Baker said. 

If the well had been new, or recently reworked, the consequences of the lightning strike could have been worse, she said. 

“We might have had a different outcome,” Baker said. 

By Friday afternoon, crews were busy salvaging the site. A shut-in wellhead, a nearby tank battery and other production equipment at 4606 Interstate 35 that serves another nearby gas well suffered damage in the fire, according to Vantage Energy spokesman Larry Holdren.

video 456

In a prepared statement, Holdren wrote that the company was “working diligently with local and state agencies to begin cleanup operations.” 

The site is among some Barnett Shale gas wells that also produce some condensate, or oil. It has been operated by Colorado- based Vantage Energy since the company acquired the Payne leases from Silver Creek Oil and Gas in 2012. 

Holdren said the company had shut in the well because it was not producing much. Texas Railroad Commission reports show neither gas nor condensate (oil) produced at the well since August 2014. 

Vantage Energy has been reworking older wells on the city’s west side. The company became the new owner of many old wells, including the interest in 148 acres owned by Brian Baldinger, a host and analyst on the NFL Network who was an offensive lineman for the Dallas Cowboys from 1982 to 1987. After the City Council adopted a moratorium on new drilling permits in May 2014, Vantage asked for, and received, a hardship exception to the moratorium. 

Since then, Denton voters approved a ban on hydraulic fracturing. The Texas Legislature recently passed a bill pre-empting cities from adopting local rules for oil and gas production. The bill also attempts to preventDenton from enforcing its ban. The bill is awaiting the governor’s signature.

The last city inspection of the site came on March 26. No violations were noted. City inspectors have visited the site 16 times since the inspection program began in 2011. In October 2014, an inspector ordered that the tall grass and weeds around the site be mowed. During several visits to the site in summer 2012, inspectors ordered pipe laying next to pump jack be moved and the area around the compressor be cleaned up. They cautioned that the equipment needed to be locked and erosion control measures needed to be added. 

Vantage’s overall compliance record with city inspectors was not available at press time.

Last month, dozens of homes in Arlington were evacuated after a Vantage gas wellhead malfunctioned and began leaking fracking fluid. Officials there were concerned that it took the company two hours to notify officials of the emergency. 

In December, Vantage agreed to take corrective actions and to pay a nearly $1 million fine after violating waste disposal regulations around a shale oil well pad in Franklin Township, Pennsylvania. 

***

Both the battery tanks and wellhead burned overnight at a gas well in northwest Denton, possibly triggered by a lightning strike.

Emergency officials responded to a call about 9:53 p.m. Fire department allowed the gas to burn, and worked through the night to keep the wellhead cool until well control specialists could bring the wellhead back under control.

Vantage Energy is the listed operator of the well.

Sara Bagheri said she received video footage of the fire from her sister about 11:30 p.m. About a half-hour later she heard a very large explosion, followed by a blow torch sound that wouldn’t stop.

“My husband and I jumped out of bed,” Bagheri said. “I saw flames dancing above the crown of our 40 year-old live oak tree.”

She estimated the wellhead to be about 1300 feet from her house. At that point, her sister had run to her home.

“I stepped outside to the strongest chemical, petroleum and tar smell I have ever smelled in my life,” Bagheri said.

Smoke was everywhere and the sky was orange. She watched smoke gather around the propane tank that serves her home and worried about the way out.There is one street to the neighborhood which passes about 250 feet from the wellhead.

She was shaking uncontrollably, she said, and heard her husband say, ‘we have to go.’

As they hustled away, Bagheri said she could lights on in all her neighbor’s homes and cars streaming out of the neighborhood.

First responders did not order people to evacuate their homes. No injuries were reported.

 

video 123

A Denton Record-Chronicle reader provided this video