Wise County well fire sparks concern from neighbors

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by CYNTHIA VEGA and CASEY NORTON

WFAA

Posted on November 8, 2011 at 6:01 PM

Updated Monday, Nov 25 at 12:57 AM

Well fire

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WISE COUNTY — Huge flames and a plume of black smoke rose from an inactive Wise County natural gas well for more than three hours Tuesday morning.

A lightning strike is blamed for the fire at an isolated saltwater injection facility in Boyd, about 30 miles northwest of Fort Worth.

Saltwater disposal wells are involved in the natural gas drilling process, and that triggered immediate health concerns for people living near the fire.

The injection well has changed ownership several times; News 8 has learned that it was shut down at least once.

It was supposed to reopen soon, but the fire has renewed concerns about what's really going on.

It started with a flash of lightning around 8:30 a.m., but the impact lasted for hours.

Flames and thick black soot poured from the saltwater injection well site. While firefighters kept their distance, the smoke drifted east toward Boyd, where residents tried to hold their breath and stay inside.

"At first, it smelled more like lighter fluid, but the rest of the time it just stunk," said Mark Griffin. "I don't know how to describe it other than that."

Firefighters from Paradise, Boyd, Cottondale and Rhome took turns fighting the fire, using foam to put out the flames. The fire finally burned itself out just before noon.

Investigators said it was most likely residual crude oil in those tanks, but they can't be sure.

The well was not operational yet, so there were no permits for what was actually on site.

Wise County Fire Marshal Mark Dodd said no one was hurt, and there was no need to evacuate nearby homes. "I don't think there is any threat to the public," he said.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Railroad Commission said they are looking into it, but that doesn't give Jim Joling much hope. He watched the smoke billowing all morning.

"I understand that from blowback there is oil mixture in there, but that seemed to be an awful lot of oil or some kind of product burning with thick, black smoke for a very long time," he said.

Joling fought the well years ago when it was owned by the now-bankrupt Hydro FX. And he was there when the Railroad Commission finally 1stepped in because of pressure concerns at other well sites.

"After a couple of months, the pressure went down, so they concluded that the well was unsafe, so they shut it down completely," he said.

The smoke has cleared near Boyd, and several agencies are investigating. But residents won't breathe easy until they know what was in those tanks.

According to a news release issued Tuesday morning, the well's new owner is Green Tide Water Disposal of Austin. Permits, however, are still in the name of Strata Operating. Neither company returned phone calls from News 8.

E-mail cvega@wfaa.com and cnorton@wfaa.com

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