Fracking Well Leaks, Forces Evac

Tuesday, May 13, 2014 @ 10:05 AM gHale

While drilling a well in preparation for a fracking procedure, a Morgan County, OH, shale well began leaking May 4, forcing the evacuation of nearby residents.

State and federal environmental emergency-response teams and the drilling company finally contained the mess by May 7, but not before it reached a nearby creek.

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The leak first came to light May 4, when about 10 gallons per minute of oily drilling fluid, called mud, gushed from the drill site, according to an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency report filed on Monday.

Seven residents from three houses evacuated because of the danger that escaping natural gas might lead to an explosion.

A “pocket of unexpected natural gas was encountered” during drilling, according to a U.S. EPA report. That caused overpressurization and failure of the well head. One hundred barrels of drilling mud spilled from the well on Sunday, according to the well’s owner, PDC Energy of Colorado, which said some of it reached an unnamed creek near Beverly, Ohio.

An unknown amount of wet gas — a mixture containing crude oil — also escaped.

As of noon on Tuesday, 330 barrels of oil and water ended up collected at the site, according to the U.S. EPA.

Drilling mud lubricates the drill bits that cut through layers of rock in creating oil and gas wells. In this case, the drilling mud was a 75 percent synthetic oil blend.

Drilling mud flooded the pad and flowed down an earthen platform into storm-water-control drainage ditches and into the creek.

The drilling rig and pad ended up installed about a year ago on farmland owned by Orin D. Palmer, who grows corn, soybeans and hay near the site.

The company said it had drilled about 7,000 feet down and had turned its drill and gone about 1,000 feet horizontally when it struck the gas.

Between 75 to 100 workers and dozens of trucks were on Palmer’s property, working to mop up the spill, said Andy Maguire, on-scene coordinator for the U.S. EPA.

PDC, with branch offices in West Virginia and Marietta, Ohio, operates 15 oil and gas wells in southeastern Ohio and plans to drill 18 more this year.

It has had no similar incidents in Ohio, said Michael Edwards, senior director of investor relations for PDC. “There were no injuries. We have contained it. And we’ve made significant recovery of fluids.”

According to news reports, the company agreed to pay a $35,000 fine in June after one of its wells near Fort Collins, CO, released about 84,000 gallons of “flowback” fracking solution.

“Obviously, the very first thing is safety to personnel and anyone in the area,” Edwards said. “ And we minimize what impacts we have to the environment.”

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which issues permits for drilling operations, described the incident as rare.

The agency will review the spill within a few days and determine the integrity of the well, said spokesman Mark Bruce.

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