Equipment failure named as cause of July fire

Noel Lyn Smith

FARMINGTON — A fire that broke out at a WPX Energy oil production site near Nageezi in July most likely was started by equipment failure.

Crew members on July 15 inspect a WPX Energy oil production site that caught fire near Nageezi. A new report says the fire likely was started by an equipment failure.

The company released information on its website Tuesday from an assessment completed by Advanced Engineering Investigations Corp. that examined the cause of the fire.

Advanced Engineering Investigations completed an engineering review that took more than 90 days and included interviews with 12 individuals from five companies who were present when the fire started on July 11 or had direct knowledge of the production site, according to the update posted online.

The results of the review "point to the possibility of an apparent equipment failure," the update states.

"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," according to the update.

It further states the initial fire was likely fed by oil in manifolds and hoses that were connected to the transfer pump, resulting in the fire spreading to other equipment and tanks at the site.

No one was injured in the fire, which happened near U.S. Highway 550 and caused the evacuation of nearby residents.

The site has been reclaimed since the fire. In response to the incident, WPX has improved safety measures during flowback operations when new wells start to produce, the update states.

The additional steps include replacing aluminum lines with steel lines, increasing inspections of equipment, increasing the amount of spacing between certain types of equipment, and filling and isolating storage tanks individually where possible.

WPX spokesman Kelly Swan said in an email today the company reached out to Advanced Engineering Investigations in July and received the findings this month.

The assessment by Advanced Engineering Investigations, based in Littleton, Colo., was led by a forensic engineer and reviewed by an AEI investigator, according to the update.

Swan said WPX posted the update online because it was the quickest way to reach local stakeholders with the timely information.

"That said, we understand that not everyone has internet access. We will reach these stakeholders and neighbors face to face as we discuss our development plans for next year. Those plans are still in the works," Swan said in the email.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.