Blowout in Bradford County
BY LAURA LEGERE
Thousands of gallons of natural gas drilling waste fluids spilled onto a farm and streams for more than 12 hours Wednesday after a driller in Bradford County lost control of a well late Tuesday.
The Atgas 2H well operated by Chesapeake Energy Corp. in LeRoy Twp. blew out during the hydraulic fracturing process at around 11:45 p.m., swamping the lined well pad and overflowing into a field, a small tributary and Towanda Creek, state environmental regulators said.
Seven families were asked to evacuate the area until the well could be brought back under control, Chesapeake said in a statement, adding that no one was injured in the incident and no gas was emitted into the atmosphere. Six families had chosen to return to their homes while one family has been temporarily relocated, according to a Chesapeake news release.
Canton Fire Chief Kim Jennings reported that the evacuees were placed in local motels.
Chief Jennings said that Canton firefighters as well as Western Alliance Ambulance personnel were on the scene throughout the day, standing by and making certain that any equipment needs were met. Chief Jennings said the Canton Fire Department left the scene late Wednesday.
Chesapeake described the problem as “an equipment failure.” Neither the company nor regulators with the state Department of Environmental Protection could provide a precise estimate of how much fluid was spilled.
Emergency crews were able to stop the fluid from flowing into Towanda Creek by Wednesday afternoon, but crews struggled to regain control of the well into Wednesday evening. The-well control specialty firm Boots and Coots was brought to the site from Texas, Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Katy Gresh said.
Chesapeake said “secondary containment mechanisms” have been built to keep fluids away from Towanda Creek.
It was unclear Wednesday where exactly the well was leaking or why, but officials on site described the leak as originating from below the frack valve stack, an above-ground piece of equipment that controls pressure during the fracking process.
“Evidently the crack is in the top part of the well below the blowout preventer,” Skip Roupp, the deputy director of the Bradford County Emergency Management Agency said Wednesday afternoon, referring to a device used in emergency situations to choke off flow from a well. “They don’t really know what happened yet because they don’t have it controlled yet.”
At least eight DEP personnel were on scene sampling the unnamed tributary and Towanda Creek as well as eight private water supplies, Gresh said.
There was no evidence the spill killed fish, she said.
In a statement from Chesapeake, Brian Grove, senior director of corporate development, said testing showed few environmental problems.
“Initial testing from Towanda Creek indicates little, if any, significant effect to local waterways as a result of an apparent surface equipment failure at 11:45 p.m. on April 19. Currently, fluids from the well are fully contained,” Grove said.
The Atgas 2H well is part of a six-well pad in a remote area on LeRoy Mountain about 13 miles west of Towanda.
The hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, stage of well development takes place after a well is drilled and involves injecting millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals underground at high pressures to crack the rock and release the gas trapped there.
A portion of that fluid returns to the surface laden with salts, metals and radioactivity that occurs naturally in the shale formation and is mobilized by the fracturing process. The wastewater, called flowback water, spewed from the Atgas well on Wednesday. The exact composition of the spilled fluid had not been determined.
Chesapeake Energy, one of the state’s most active Marcellus Shale drillers, has been issued 30 notices of violations from the DEP for its operations in the state this year. The company has been cited 284 times for violations since the start of 2008 and has been subject to 58 enforcement actions by environmental regulators, according to DEP records.
Unlike a blowout at a Clearfield County gas well in June — the most serious well control incident in the state’s Marcellus Shale to date — the blowout in LeRoy Twp. never spewed a geyser of waste fluid into the air, Gresh said.
In the June incident, at a well owned by EOG Resources, natural gas and wastewater shot 75 feet into the air after drillers hit unexpectedly high pressures underground.
Times-Shamrock Writer CJ Marshall also contributed to this report.