Fracking Halted after Valve Failure

Wednesday, February 15, 2012 @ 03:02 PM gHale

An out-of-control natural gas well released waste fluids to a Forest Lake Township well pad early last week leading Pennsylvania regulators to shut down the site.

Two valves failed during fracking at Carrizo Marcellus’ Baker 4H well Jan. 30, according to a Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman and a violation report issued by the agency.

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The company was in the fifth stage of hydraulically fracturing the well, a process that involves injecting chemically treated water and sand at high pressure underground to free gas from rock. Company officials told regulators at the site they were injecting water and sand without chemical additives at the time of the failure.

Regulators asked again later if the company used additives in the well and the answer is “pending,” DEP spokeswoman Colleen Connolly said.

“We didn’t get reports of any injuries or any contamination to the nearby area but our investigation is continuing,” she said.

Regulators said the fluid coming out of the well was “relatively clear.” Radiological tests and measurements of methane in the atmosphere showed nothing higher than normal background levels at the well pad, she said.

The department did not release an estimate of how much fluid escaped from the well, but Connolly said the fluid was flowing out at a rate of about 300 to 400 gallons a minute for less than half an hour. According to a violation notice issued to the company, the well control specialty firm Boots & Coots arrived at the site and helped Carrizo personnel shut down the well completely by 6 p.m.

The department “strongly” recommended Carrizo halt all fracking operations in the state “until the cause of this problem and a solution are identified,” regulators wrote in the violation notice.

Efforts to reach a Carrizo Oil and Gas spokesman at the company’s Houston, Texas, headquarters were unsuccessful.

Inspection reports show workers successfully replaced the failed valves and completed the initial cleanup at the site by Tuesday. Boots & Coots performed an audit of the problem wellhead and fracking equipment.

Carrizo was to submit a report to the state detailing what was in the spilled fluid and how they contained it before it reached a nearby waterway, as well as an explanation of the failure’s root cause and a sampling plan for any impact to the well site.

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