Blown-out Bradford County well 'stable but not killed'
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A Marcellus Shale natural gas well that blew out Tuesday night is "stable but not killed," and the driller has said it will voluntarily suspend some operations statewide while it works to plug the well and determine what happened.
The Chesapeake Energy well in Bradford County had an equipment failure that allowed thousands of gallons of chemically laced hydraulic fracturing fluid to flow from the site for at least half a day. Seven families who live near the well site were evacuated as a precaution.
This morning, "a small amount of flow back is discharging but being collected by vacuum trucks," said Daniel Spadoni, a state Department of Environment Protection spokesman in Williamsport. "It is not escaping the well pad."
A statement from Chesapeake said that "well-control efforts have been successful in significantly reducing flow from the leak."
Chesapeake, in its statement, said it is voluntarily suspending "completion operations" in Pennsylvania as it evaluates the incident. All processes after drilling are considered part of "well completion," starting with fracking and including all the setup before connecting the well to the pipeline. Chesapeake's suspension of work will affect seven crews, six in Pennsylvania and one in West Virginia, that go from site to site to complete the wells.
In Bradford, operational equipment has been replaced by equipment aimed at plugging the well, Chesapeake said.
Mr. Spadoni said that Boots & Coots International Well Control, a Houston-based company, is setting up a system to pump material into the hole to kill the well. "That process should begin early afternoon," Mr. Spadoni said in an email message. Materials used include "things like ground-up tires, plastic bits, and other rubber material."
"DEP has sampled seven home wells and eight additional surface locations, including a couple spots on the unnamed tributary to Towanda Creek, Towanda Creek and a sedimentation pond," Mr. Spadoni said. The DEP does not yet have results. Chesapeake reported that "initial testing of area waterways has shown minimal impact, if any."
According to Chesapeake, "The well has emitted limited amounts of gas beginning early this morning. Both the Bradford County EMA and Chesapeake have performed gas-plume modeling in expectation of this potential progression and have come to the same conclusion that any natural-gas releases will not pose a risk to the area's public safety."
The well pad is about 16 miles from the Susquehanna River, Mr. Spadoni said. A field check yesterday revealed no impacts to the river, he said.
Chesapeake said it has begun screening residents' private water supplies within 4,000 feet of the well pad and comparing field parameters to their already collected pre-drill data. Chesapeake indicated that where anomalies are found then more detailed sampling will be conducted.
In response to the situation, the environmental group PennFuture called on DEP Secretary Michael Krancer to immediately shut down all of Chesapeake's drilling operations while an investigation is conducted.
PennFuture President and CEO Jan Jarrett also called for an immediate end to the pilot policy that prohibits DEP inspectors from citing drillers for violations, putting citations in the hands of top DEP officials.
First Published April 21, 2011 10:02 am