PA DEP Says Chesapeake Energy’s Mismanagement of Gas Liquids Led to Fire in Washington County

After a full investigation, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) has found that an explosion and fire in Avella (Washington County), PA (see this MDN article) was due to mismanagement of natural gas liquids. According to the DEP, Chesapeake Energy, who owns and manages the well and storage site, did not follow industry standard practices in their handling of natural gas liquids. The liquids or “condensate” are a by-product produced by some Marcellus gas wells.

"The Department of Environmental Protection has investigated the accident and concluded that the fire was caused by improper management of condensate," agency Acting Secretary Michael L. Krancer wrote in a March 21 letter sent to companies drilling in the Marcellus shale.

DEP spokeswoman Katy Gresh said Chesapeake Energy Corp., which owns the drill site in Independence near the village of Avella where the fire occurred Feb. 23, failed to follow industry practices for managing byproducts known as condensate.

"In this case, Chesapeake did not follow those practices," she said. "We are continuing to evaluate the information that we have with regard to any potential enforcement action."*

The DEP said that a second fire at a drilling site in Hopewell (Washington County), PA in March of 2010 (exactly one year ago) was also due to mismanagement of condensate/natural gas liquids. That site is owned and operated by Atlas Energy.

*Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Apr 1, 2011) – DEP finds mismanagement in fire