The investigation into what caused a rig blowout near Douglas last week is continuing this week, just as cleanup crews are working to repair the environmental and rig damage.

Crews were finally able to regain control over the Chesapeake Energy  Combs Ranch unit oil rig April 27 after several days of unfavorable wind conditions kept them at bay. Drilling mud was pumped back into the well to neutralize the down-hole formation pressure, which allowed crews to install pressure-control equipment at the surface.

No one has been injured since the incident began April 24 about 10 miles north of Douglas.

The rig was employing a technique called hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, when the accident occurred. Workers on the site were installing steel casing into the horizontal lateral of the well approximately 11,500 feet down and 4,800 feet horizontal when something went wrong. It is still unclear what precisely caused the rupture but state Oil and Gas Supervisor Tom Doll said the company was several weeks away from beginning to fracture the rock and that the incident “had nothing to do with fracking.”

Fracking is the process of  pumping a mixture of water, chemicals and sand into the rock formation to cause fractures that release oil and gas.

Coordinator for Corporate Development & Government Relations at Chesapeake, Kelsey Campbell, said that it is still unknown if the well will be put back into operation at this time. Doll echoed her sentiments.

“At this point, it is a little premature to speculate,” Doll said, “but there is an outside chance that they could salvage the well because there was no fire.”

Doll also told the Budget that an investigation is underway to determine how much natural gas and drilling fluid actually escaped from the well. According to Doll, wells in this same area produce approximately 1 million cubic feet of natural gas per day out of the same Niobrara formation.

“Over the course of three days, 72 hours, that would give us an estimate, but that was a completed well so we will need to determine whether or not the well was producing more or less.

“There was surface casing run and set on this well so that it would protect the ground water and at this point there is no evidence to show that the ground water has been impacted, but that is part of our investigation.”

As a precautionary measure, more than 60 people from the surrounding 2.5 mile radius were encouraged to evacuate the area to nearby hotels at the company’s expense.

Converse County Sheriff Clint Becker said he was grateful for the cooperation of residents.

“I just want to thank the people for the courtesy that they bestowed upon us when we went to advise them of the voluntary evacuation,” Becker said. “We appreciate their good attitude and the way they kept their heads about them and didn’t panic. People were very calm and very easy to talk to and it just made our job a lot easier.”

According to the Gillette News Record, Chesapeake officials have asked oil field service provider Halliburton Co.’s division called Boots & Coots to oversee cleanup and containment.

The Budget will provide further details on our website (www.douglas-budget.com) about the environmental impact of the rupture as they become available.

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