Gas Well Blowout in Clearfield County, PA Causes “Modest” Environmental Damage

What do we know about the gas well blowout that occurred on June 3rd? EOG Resources had almost completed drilling and fracking a gas well in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania when a blowout (too much pressure too fast) occurred. Here is the chronology of events:

The month long drilling operation [in Clearfield County] ended on March 3. Contractors returned in May to hydraulically fracture the well over 12 days. The process involves the injection of water, sand and chemicals under high pressure to shatter the gas-bearing rock so that the fuel can be recovered.

The frack job ended on May 28. The operator [EOG Resources] had begun well-completion operations on June 1. The blowout occurred two days later.

High pressure in an oil or gas well is both desired and essential – the pressure is what brings the fuel to the surface. Blowouts occur when the pressure surges and overwhelms control mechanisms.

A device known as a blowout preventer is attached to the wellhead at the surface. It is designed to be triggered by operators to control pressure surges.*

And this from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) official press release on the matter:

The leak began at approximately 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 3, when the well’s operators lost control of it while preparing to extract gas after fracking the shale. As a result, natural gas and flowback frack fluid was released uncontrollably onto the ground and 75 feet into the air. The well was capped at around noon on June 4.

The EOG well pad is located in a rural area near the Penfield/Route 153 exit of Interstate 80 in northwestern Clearfield County, near Moshannon State Forest.

The department’s [DEP] Emergency Response and Oil and Gas programs responded to the incident, along with the Pennsylvania State Police, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, and local fire and police departments.**

The DEP believes the blowout preventer failed—but they don’t yet know why. Investigations continue. Since the blowout, the DEP has stopped all new drilling by EOG Resources until a cause is found:

The Department of Environmental Protection today [June 7] ordered EOG Resources Inc. to suspend its natural gas well drilling activities in Pennsylvania after a June 3 blowout at one of the company’s Clearfield County wells sent natural gas and at least 35,000 gallons of drilling wastewater into the sky and over the ground for 16 hours.

DEP Secretary John Hanger said that while the order bans all drilling and hydrofracturing, or fracking, operations for specified periods of time, the suspension will remain in effect until DEP has completed a comprehensive investigation into the leak and the company has implemented any needed changes.**

Here’s what else we know: No one was hurt. About 35,000 gallons of drilling fluid (mostly water) was spilled. The well did not explode. According to DEP Secretary John Hanger:

“Fortunately, the well did not ignite and explode, and there were no injuries to the well crew or emergency responders. Our preliminary assessment is that the environmental damage was modest as the frack fluid was contained and did not appear to reach any streams.”**

Since the accident, anti-drillers (and mainstream media) have had a field day referring to the “tragedy” and “disaster” in Clearfield County. While MDN does not excuse or minimize the accident and encourages a full investigation, a little perspective is in order: According to the Federal Highway Administration (as of 2005), an average of 115 people die every day in automobile accidents. The average number of people who die every day from gas well accidents? Zero.

*Philadelphia Inquirer (June 7) – Pa. suspends gas drilling at Marcellus rupture site
**PR Newswire (June 7) – DEP Orders EOG Resources to Halt All Natural Gas Drilling Activities in PA

Dominion Signs Deal to Transport CONSOL Marcellus Shale Gas for Next 15 Years

From a Dominion press release issued today:

Dominion today announced that its natural gas transmission and storage subsidiary, Dominion Transmission, has reached a 15-year agreement with the gas subsidiary of CONSOL Energy Inc. for firm transportation of CONSOL’s Marcellus shale natural gas production.

The project, capable of transporting 200,000 dekatherms per day, will move supplies from various receipt points in central and southwestern Pennsylvania to a nexus of market pipelines and storage facilities in Leidy, Clinton County, Pa.

“Dominion is pleased to provide CONSOL with year-round access to growing Northeast markets and to provide another supply alternative for market area customers,” said Gary Sypolt, chief executive officer of Dominion Energy. 

Earlier this year Dominion sold its natural gas exploration and production business to CONSOL so that the company could concentrate on its regulated businesses, including increased transportation and storage infrastructure opportunities resulting from Marcellus shale discoveries.

Dominion plans to file for a FERC certificate in December. If the project is approved, construction is planned to begin in March 2012, and it would enter service in November 2012. Construction plans include new compression facilities at three existing compressor stations in central Pennsylvania.

Dominion Transmission provides gathering, processing, transportation and storage services, operating in the heart of the Marcellus shale production area.

Dominion is one of the nation’s largest producers and transporters of energy, with a portfolio of more than 27,500 megawatts of generation, 12,000 miles of natural gas transmission, gathering and storage pipeline and 6,000 miles of electric transmission lines. Dominion operates the nation’s largest natural gas storage system with 942 billion cubic feet of storage capacity and serves retail energy customers in 12 states.

*Dominion Press Release (June 14) – Dominion Announces 15-Year Contract for Marcellus Northeast Natural Gas Project

Delaware River Basin Commission Bans Exploratory Drilling in Marcellus Shale in the Watershed

Once again the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) is overreaching. There is no doubt the commission is packed with people opposed to shale gas drilling, and they have no regard for private property owners or their property rights. Under the guise of “protecting the water supply,” a single person—the director of the DRBC—has now banned exploratory drilling in the watershed with the stroke of a pen. What does it mean? If you’re a property owner living in the Delaware River watershed (New York or Pennsylvania), drilling for you won’t happen any time soon. Maybe never.

Today’s DRBC press release:

Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) Executive Director Carol R. Collier today announced that she has supplemented her May 19, 2009 determination to include natural gas exploratory wells.

“My 2009 determination that sponsors of natural gas extraction projects in shale formations must obtain commission approval before commencing such projects expressly did not cover wells intended solely for exploratory purposes,” Collier said.  “Today, I am extending the provisions of my 2009 determination to include exploratory wells, subject to reservations for exploratory well projects already approved by the states on or before June 14, 2010.”

By this supplemental determination, all natural gas well project sponsors, including the sponsors of natural gas well projects intended solely for exploratory purposes, must first apply for and obtain commission approval before commencing any natural gas well project for the production from or exploration of shale formations within the drainage area of Special Protection Waters in the Delaware River Basin.

“For the purpose of this determination, any natural gas well drilled in or through shale is assumed to be targeting a shale formation and is subject to this determination, unless the project sponsor proves otherwise,” Collier added. All other aspects of the 2009 determination remain in effect.

Today’s action recognizes the risks to water resources, including ground and surface water that the land disturbance and drilling activities inherent in any shale gas well pose. “In light of the commission’s May 5, 2010 decision to finalize natural gas regulations before considering project approvals, this supplemental determination removes any regulatory incentive for project sponsors to classify their wells as exploratory wells and install them without  DRBC review before the commission’s natural gas regulations are in place,” Collier said. “It thus supports the commission’s goal that exploratory wells do not serve as a source of degradation of the commission’s Special Protection Waters.”

“Where entities have invested in exploratory well projects in reliance on my May 2009 determination and information from DRBC staff, there are countervailing considerations that favor allowing these projects to move ahead,” Collier stated in her supplemental determination. “I am informed that since May of 2009, Pennsylvania has issued a limited number of natural gas well drilling permits within the Delaware River Basin targeting shale formations, while New York State has not issued any natural gas well permits targeting shales in the basin since that date. In contrast to the thousands of wells projected to be installed in the basin over the next several years, the risk to basin waters posed by only the wells approved by Pennsylvania since May 2009 are comparatively small. Not only are these wells subject to state regulation as to their construction and operation, but they continue to require commission approval before they can be fractured or otherwise modified for natural gas production. In light of these existing safeguards and the investment-backed expectations of the sponsors of these projects, this supplemental determination does not prohibit any exploratory natural gas well project from proceeding if the applicant has obtained a state natural gas well permit for the project on or before June 14, 2010.”

Most of the shale formations that may be subject to horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques requiring large volumes of water in the basin are located within the drainage area to DRBC’s designated Special Protection Waters (SPW). The commission’s SPW program is designed to prevent degradation in streams and rivers considered to have exceptionally high scenic, recreational, ecological, and/or water supply values through stricter control of wastewater discharges, non-point pollution control, and reporting requirements. Coverage of the DRBC’s SPW anti-degradation regulations includes the 197-mile non-tidal Delaware River from Hancock, N.Y. south to Trenton, N.J. and the land draining to this stretch.

Any person adversely affected by this action may request a hearing by submitting a request in writing to the commission secretary within 30 days of the date of this supplemental determination in accordance with the DRBC’s Rules of Practice and Procedure.

*DRBC Press Release (June 14) – DRBC Executive Director Determination Extended to Include Natural Gas Exploratory Wells