Gas Well Valve Leak Timeline

Friday, August 22, 2014 @ 05:08 PM gHale

A valve failure on a wellhead caused natural gas to leak for a day and that leaves Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. facing a $76,546 fine.

On a cold Jan. 5 morning, a Cabot subcontractor failed to warm the wellhead at the Huston J1 well in Brooklyn Twp., Susquehanna County, PA, before beginning work replacing equipment, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). A wing valve ended up damaged and stuck in the open position, letting gas escape.

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Frozen sand in the valve bore may have also obstructed the movement of the gate, which caused a function test to show a closed valve when it was actually open, the DEP said.

Cabot contacted Wild Well Control of Houston, oil and gas emergency responders, who arrived on scene by the evening of Jan. 5, Cabot spokesman George Stark said. DEP emergency responders were also on scene.

Cabot contacted five residents within a quarter mile of the well pad, warning them of the situation. DEP air monitoring showed no need for them to evacuate — gas dissipated to background levels within 100 feet of the well, according to the DEP.

By 1 p.m. on Jan. 6, Wild Well Control had stopped the leak by installing additional valves and swapping out the broken one.

The well was in production, meaning the heavy equipment present during the drilling or hydraulic fracturing stage was not on the pad at the time, Stark said. Without this equipment, the risk of a spark igniting the gas was much lower.

Stark said Cabot conducts drills every four months on how to respond to a leak, plus other scenarios.

“We do game plan for this,” he said. “You put a plan in place, you get to test it under a test scenario, and when January came, we were able to take that knowledge we learned in the drill and apply it to real life.”

Scientists identified methane leaks as a potential downside to the climate benefits of natural gas. Although burning natural gas for electricity emits fewer pollutants than coal or other fossil fuels, the climate benefits become moot if the potent, short-term greenhouse gas leaks at a rate of 3.2 percent or more across the entire system, according to research by Environmental Defense Fund, Princeton University and Duke University.

The DEP fined Cabot July 23 for the gas leak on the Huston J1 well in Brooklyn Twp., Susquehanna County. DEP released the fine Tuesday.

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