Chesapeake says Bradford County fluid and gas leak is under control

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LEROY, Pa. -- A Bradford County gas well is stable and no longer leaking after nearly two days of emergency efforts to stop hydraulic fracturing fluid, and later natural gas, from escaping.

While officials with Chesapeake Energy said Thursday evening that they were able to stem the leaking fluid and gas, final procedures to seal the well won't occur until this morning, as long as there are no problems overnight.

The cause of Tuesday night's blowout here, and the amount of resulting damage, remain unclear. Chesapeake suspended all post-drilling activity on its wells in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio, a freeze that will remain in place while they investigate why the well malfunctioned.

Department of Environmental Protection officials, as well as local residents, are still waiting on the results from tests of nearby water supplies. In the hours after the blowout, thousands of gallons of chemically laced fracking fluid flowed from the site and downhill into a tributary to Towanda Creek.

Initial tests showed "minimal, if any" impact to surrounding waterways, according to Chesapeake. Results of the DEP tests are expected early next week, and an agency spokesman said field checks showed no signs of concern.

"If we can come out of this where everyone can still drink their well water, then that would be a pretty good thing," said Leroy Township supervisor Ted Tomlinson, who can see the well site from his backyard.

Mr. Tomlinson and others said the well site and nearby roads have been packed with white Chesapeake and DEP trucks since the incident began. A local community center was turned into a command post for officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, county emergency management, local fire department, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Fish and Boat Commission.

It took much of the afternoon and early evening for Houston-based well control specialists from Boots and Coots to pump material into the well to stop the leak. A bridge plug will be put in place, allowing workers to replace the malfunctioning wellhead.

While some gas was emitted during the day Thursday, Chesapeake said it posed no public safety risk. The company said it regrets the incident and offered to pay for motel rooms for residents in seven surrounding homes. Several of the families have been on vacation, and one did decide to stay the rest of the week in a motel.

Besides Mr. Tomlinson, most of the neighbors whose properties surround the well site either did not answer their doors or declined to give their names for comment. But in multiple interviews, other township residents said Chesapeake has been responsive since coming to the area, now a hot spot in the drilling-heavy county.

Mr. Tomlinson said the company has repaired "three or four" of the township's 18.5 miles of roadways, to "as good or better condition." And when trucks cutting the corner of his property created a dip in the ground, they promptly filled it back in, he said.

But he also said the farmer whose land contains the drill pad is concerned about his herd of beef cattle and whether he will be able to sell them.

Brad Hugo, a welder who lives down the road from the drilling site, said his family has been drinking bottled water, despite no signs of contamination in their well water. Discovering a problem with his well is his "biggest fear," but he said the activity has been "a godsend" for farmers struggling to hold on to their properties.

"In some ways, it's great -- you can see a turnaround in the community having work and people spending money," Mr. Hugo said. "But you don't know exactly what's going on down there."

He and others said they are optimistic that the financial incentives are worth the risk of scenarios like the one that's now unfolding.

"If some royalty money starts flowing in, we're not going to refuse it, but there are concerns," Mr. Tomlinson said. "Maybe this will be a learning experience."


Laura Olson: lolson@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-4254.


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