Well malfunction causes spill
BY LAURA LEGERE
Three Wyoming County families near a malfunctioning natural gas well were evacuated Wednesday night and Thursday as thousands of gallons of fluid waste escaped from the well before crews could shut it down.
The Marcellus Shale well on Carrizo Oil and Gas’ Yarasavage pad off Keiserville Road began malfunctioning during a fracking operation at around 6 p.m. Wednesday, Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Colleen Connolly said.
The problem worsened overnight when natural gas was detected leaking from the well and the salty, chemically treated wastewater flowed out at a rate that peaked at around 800 gallons per minute before subsiding, according to the company and regulators.
Gas company and specialty well control crews regained control of the well by early Thursday and had it capped by the afternoon.
About 5,400 barrels, or 227,000 gallons, of the fluid was captured in tanks and trucked off site, Connolly said. Some of the fluid ran off the pad but crews built a temporary catch basin across the road to contain it, she said.
Four families within 1,500 feet of the well site were asked to evacuate on Wednesday night because officials were concerned that as the fluid in the well was released to the surface, gas would blow out behind it.
“Fortunately, we had the outcome we were looking for,” Connolly said. “There was no major gas buildup, no explosion, no large flare off. Now we need to find out why this happened and what can be done to prevent it from happening again.”
No was injured in the incident. The three families that evacuated to hotels were invited to return by Thursday afternoon. A fourth landowner did not evacuate. Carrizo is offering bottled water to families within 1,500 feet of the well and will return to the homes today to test their drinking water supplies, although there is no specific indication of contamination, Ms. Connolly said.
“The safety of our employees, community residents and stakeholders is our first priority,” Carrizo said in a statement. “This is an unfortunate incident and we will apply the experience gained to the continuous improvement of our future operations.”
The problem started while crews were in the 23rd stage of fracking, or hydraulically fracturing, the Yarasavage 1H well, a process of injecting chemically treated water and sand underground at high pressure to crack the gas-bearing shale. The malfunction might have been caused by a flange at the wellhead but the exact cause is unclear.
Officials with the county and state emergency management agencies responded to the incident along with Carrizo, its contractors, first responders and environmental regulators.
Keiserville Road was closed at both ends to most traffic on Thursday and dozens of trucks traveled to and from the site. Shortly before noon, a brief burst of vapor shot high into the air from the hillside well and stopped.
County EMA director Eugene Dziak said the public was not in any danger.
“We’ve been monitoring the air all night long,” he said. “There has been no release of gas to the atmosphere.”
DEP crews found no detections of volatile chemicals or methane in the air during a sweep of a mile-and-a-half-wide circle around the well. Officials also detected no or very low levels of radiation in the fluid that flowed out of the well, Connolly said.
Carrizo notified emergency officials of the problem in a timely way, as required, which aided the response, she said.
“There have to be systems in place to collect the flow back water at a certain pace,” she said. “Since this started to flow back so fast, they couldn’t get control of it until this morning.”
The department will continue to investigate the cause of the incident and any soil or water impacts, and eventually determine whether to fine the company, she said.
Houston-based Carrizo has drilled 85 shale gas wells in Pennsylvania, according to DEP records. Thirty of them are in Wyoming County.