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

  • Elizabeth

    Making a headline read “Modest Environmental Damage” is minimizing the “accident,” even though you say you are not minimizing or excusing. Words and how you use them are important, as you well exercise in this column every time.

    Any damage to the environment is a tragedy and a disaster. The very presence of these wells is both a tragedy and a disaster.

    Your automobile analogy doesn’t wash. There are nearly 500,000 gas wells in the US. There are 260 MILLION automobiles on the road. The people involved in automobile accidents are the ones dying. They aren’t subjecting thousands of area residents to the fallout from their accident and we don’t have to look at their accident sitting there after long it’s occurred like a polluted gas drilling landscape left laid to waste. When gas company executives (the drivers of the industry) start dying in their own accidents, then maybe you can use that analogy.

    It might behoove you to stop simplifying this issue. It’s not really that simple. It takes a complex mind to completely understand it, and if you’re going to develop propaganda around it, you should completely understand it rather than just sharing information gas companies feed you.

    Messages like yours depend on people who are too tired to research themselves because they work so hard at just living. They want someone to blame and a quick fix to repair the damage to our economy that 8 years of oil barons left us. Taking advantage of this really isn’t fair to Americans, in fact, it feels quite unpatriotic.

  • Myersmgc

    This is in answer to Elizabeth. I agree with you that most people do not do their own research, including you. How many well sites have you been on to see for yourself the “poluted landscape laid to waste? Companies nowdays are in tune to the environment. Visit any drill site one year after drilling. Feel free to pick some flowers that are growing there.

    Your numbers on automobiles on the road are off about 20 percent. Even if your figures were true, then there should be 80 deaths per year attributed to gas well accidents. Not true.

    Energy companies did not damage our country but greedy financeers that used the great wealth brought to them by these companies to their advantage. These are the people to blame. It’s not the horse, it’s the rider.

    When are you going to understand that using your computer to comment is a result of these energy companies commitment to our future?

  • whatmeworry

    Oh, goodie, they use blowout preventers. Now I feel a lot better.

  • La197430

    hello every 1 who is against drilling ….the fact is that the people dont know whats going on really need to educate them selfs on this subject an we as an oilfield company should educate the people. In every industry there is a hazord i dont here any 1 complaning bout coal mining or electric plants the bottom line is if u the people ar agianst this kind of industries ……u should become amish cause u would be ignorant to use the product an then complane bout…there will be an its sad but there will be acceidents …..but there is in every kind of work so people please read up on this type of work an eductae your self thats the only way u will know what really happens … stead of just listing to the people who think they know!!!!!!

  • RHouck

    We’re seeing reports that the fracking did not cause the explosion. True, but without fracking there would be no drilling. And the chemicals used in the process – while they did not explode – still flowed into drinking water. With gas approaching $5 per gallon and the dollar in the toilet, we need more, domesticly produced natural gas. We also need operators who take adequate precautions. One event like this sets back the cause of domestic energy production and costs everyone, well beyond a few days’ lost production. Industries simply do not police themselves. That leaves the dreaded “state.” As much as I would like to see Pennsylvania benefit from our shale riches, if we can’t regulate the process adequately, I am happy to let West Virginia, Texas, Wyoming, Colorado, etc. pay the environmental costs. We still get more benefit than importing more oil from the ME.

  • Tanner

    Interesting read nicely downplayed. Familiar with the area, lots of state land in that area beautiful part of the state. It’s main industries are logging, hilltop removal (rosebud mining company), landfills, and gas wells. It is also a great place to hike, hunt and fish. They should state that they have yet to find the pollution in the tributaries. It is there and given that we have had one of the wettest Aprils on record it is only a matter of time.