Static electricity and possibly a parking violation may be the culprits in a massive explosion and fire at an oil and gas drilling site north of Greeley.
Neighbors were rocked out of their beds around 11:20 p.m. Monday, when an explosion shook their doors. The subsequent fire could be seen for miles.
“We were getting ready for bed and the whole house shook,” said Liz Hergert, a resident in the area.
Her husband drove up the road a bit and snapped several pictures of the fire, which was offset from the drilling site at some storage tanks.
The fire occurred at a Bill Barrett Corp. drilling site a couple of miles west of Lucerne in the area of Weld County roads 27 and 70.
Though it was technically in the Eaton fire protection district, firefighters from Windsor and Greeley also responded. A total of 18 firefighters were on scene with eight trucks, said Eaton Fire Capt. Michael Lenderink. They cleared the scene about 3:30 a.m., he said.
Officials believe the explosion occurred as workers were separating the initial output of oil and water from the well during the final portions of the drilling process.
The oil and water were being placed in temporary storage tanks as a part of the transition from drilling the well to completion, which would be when the well is producing and the liquids stored in permanent tanks on site. Oil had accumulated on top of the water that was being put in a temporary tank, which created vapors that became the fuel for the explosion.
Either static electricity arced and caused a spark to set off the vapors, or there was another ignition source, such as a vehicle.
Duane Zavadil, senior vice president of environmental health and safety, regulatory and governmental affairs for Bill Barrett, said it was unusual to have oil accumulating on top of the water in this case, but it was more of a function of the initial production from the well bore, which often varies in flowback pressure.
Zavadil said the incident remains under investigation, but officials have two working theories on the cause.
“We see the source as either being static electricity or it appears someone may have parked their truck too close to the tank, so there’s competing theories at present as to the actual source of ignition,” Zavadil said. “At end of day, the flammable vapors were present as a consequence of oil accumulation.”