Full-scale emergency exercise a success, and a learning experience for all involved

RBC| The Piceance Basin in Rio Blanco County encompasses a vast swath of acreage. Beginning at the Colorado State Highway 13 turnoff, County Road 5 winds through the basin to emerge between Meeker and Rangely on Highway 64.
At first glance the basin appears to be primarily agricultural, at least on the Hwy. 13 side, but before long, signs of the basin’s complex infrastructure begin to dot the landscape. Natural gas pipeline ground valves, protected by a framework of bright yellow pipes, spring up like dandelions in lush green fields, accompanied by larger compressor stations along the side of the road.
A hand-painted sign—“fresh eggs, $4 doz.”—hanging on a fence is quite a contrast to the professional signage along the road marking the way to large industrial facilities owned and operated by some of the largest energy companies in the world: Williams’ Willow Creek Gas Plant, Enterprise’s Meeker Gas Plant, XTO Energy (a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil), Kinder Morgan and Encana, to name just a few. Additionally, the basin is home to Natural Soda, the second largest producer of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) in North America.
In 2016, the U.S. Geological Survey said the Mancos formation in the Piceance Basin is estimated to hold about 66.3 trillion cubic feet of gas, up from the 1.6 trillion estimated in 2003, just before the last “energy boom” in Rio Blanco County. The various operations employ dozens of workers.
All of that activity, and the potential for additional growth when gas prices rise, made the Piceance Basin the perfect location for a multi-agency full-scale exercise last weekend to simulate a multi-layered attack on the basin’s resources and infrastructure.
Just under 100 people from throughout the state participated in the exercise, which tested the county’s emergency systems—dispatch, sheriff’s department, fire and ambulance, road and bridge, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, U.S. Forest Service, RBC Search and Rescue, and more. It also gave the industry the opportunity to test their emergency and evacuation protocols and procedures. The exercise also offered an opportunity for local officials to work together with members of the Northwest Colorado Type 3 Incident Management Team (NWCOIMT), who would be sent in to assist local government in the event of a large incident.
At the close of the two-day event Saturday, participants said they were “encouraged” by how well the systems worked in the exercise, and felt more confident about responding to a complex event.