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