Encana and Luzerne County Draft Emergency Response Plan for Potential Marcellus Shale Drilling Disaster

One of the concerns (fears?) expressed by community members when learning there will be a gas well drilled nearby is the question of what happens in the case of a disaster, like a fire or gas leak. Will local first responders be responsible for handling a situation they may not be equipped or trained to handle?

The off-shore Deepwater Horizon oil drilling disaster in the Gulf makes people concerned about local natural gas drilling. Even though the two forms of energy extraction are vastly different, with completely different levels of risk involved, it makes no difference. It has people spooked. Planning for safety, and how you will respond to a disaster, is a good thing—especially with gas drilling.

Enter Encana, which is about to drill Luzerne County, Pennsylvania’s first Marcellus Shale gas well. And people are nervous. Working closely with the Luzerne County Emergency Management Agency, Encana is drafting a disaster emergency response plan.

Wendy Wiedenbeck, public and community relations advisor for EnCana, said local firefighters would not be responsible for containing or fighting a gas well fire or gas release at a well site.

“In the event of an incident, local emergency responders will be asked to provide support to our operations personnel who are specially trained to deal with incidents at oil and gas locations,” Wiedenbeck said.

“Should a serious well-control incident occur, such as release of gas or fire, EnCana will look to local emergency responders to provide support while EnCana calls upon well-control experts to assist in addressing such an incident,” she said.*

So the plan is that if the unthinkable happens, local first responders will provide support, but “experts” will actually handle the emergency. The only problem MDN sees is that the well-control experts Encana will call on have their offices in Texas. The news account does not specify whether or not there is an office closer, or how the experts intend to respond in a timely manner, but presumably that’s outlined in the proposed plan.

Encana and the Luzerne County Emergency Management Agency are completing the draft disaster response plan now, and as soon as it’s ready, it will be released to the public for comment and feedback. Encana and Luzerne County are showing the way for other energy companies and municipalities. Plan now for the unthinkable, and when/if it happens, the severity will hopefully be less than it otherwise would have been because you have a plan.

*Wilkes-Barre Times Leader (May 31) – Response to gas disaster in the works