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Blown Gas Well Kept Away Residents

March 27, 1998

LOVINGTON, N.M. (AP) _ A well that has spewed gas for a week, sending flames shooting skyward for a day, kept residents from their homes and motorists from traversing two highways.

Nobody was reported injured.

The blown well accidentally ignited Thursday, forcing state police to close U.S. 82 and Lea County Road 238 in the area for much of the day Thursday. State police Sgt. Johnny Rivas said the roads were reopened by 5 p.m. Thursday.

``The well is still burning. We’ve opened up the roads and let people back in their houses,″ Rivas said. ``Everything’s pretty much back to normal except for the well burning, and that’s probably going to take another three to four days to about a week.″

The fire started while crews from Boots & Coots International Well Control Inc. and Haliburton attempted to remove equipment from the drilling rig. They were using a special high-pressure hydro-cutting device.

Initially, Rivas said, natural-occurring gasoline from the well burned intensely, but later Thursday only methane gas fueled the flames.

He said the well was estimated to be losing 8 million to 15 million cubic feet of gas per day.

A team of well-control specialists was on the scene trying to control the well.

The well, discharging millions of cubic feet of largely methane gas since blowing out March 20, flared up at 11:25 a.m. Thursday, sparking a brief grass fire.

No injuries were reported, and the Lea County Sheriff’s Department said it was not immediately known what caused the gas to ignite at the well 4 miles west of Lovington.

Efforts to pump heavyweight drilling mud into the well failed Tuesday, leaving control work up to Houston-based Boots & Coots.

The blown well, owned by UMC Petroleum of Denver, caused the evacuation of several homes within a few miles of the well. Those residents remained evacuated.

The cause of the blowout was under investigation.

Gas and oil deep in the earth are under pressure, and drilling or some kinds of work on an established well can cause a blowout in which gas or oil escapes into the air.

Industry officials said small blowouts happen all the time and usually are quickly contained. But larger and more complicated blowouts such as the one near Lovington are uncommon.

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