PA Well Pad Blaze

Wednesday, February 11, 2015 @ 09:02 AM gHale

A fire broke out at a Marcellus Shale natural gas well pad last Wednesday as the North Strabane Township, PA, drilling operation was just starting up, officials said.

“They were very fortunate last night,” said Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) spokesman John Poister.

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The DEP was still attempting Thursday to determine how much oil leaked from a hydraulic line and what caused the substance to catch fire at Range Resources’ Jeffries Elisabeth pad off Ross Road.

Regulators also were investigating to determine how much oil leaked from the ruptured line and what the connections were on the pad, Poister said.

“We have a lot of work to do down there,” Poister said.

No one suffered an injury in the fire that began about 5:45 p.m. and spread to plastic sheeting on the well pad at 257 Ross Road.

It was under control within an hour by firefighters using foam and water hauled by tanker trucks to the site from a nearby fire hydrant.

“I can say that the initial fire was small, and the workers attempted to extinguish it with a hand-held unit,” said Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella.

“But the fluid discharged enough, the fire spread and eventually the spill liner ignited,” he said. “That’s why there was a lot of smoke. It would be similar to a tire burning.”

Washington County Public Safety Director Jeff Yates said a small amount of low-pressure natural gas was escaping at the time into the atmosphere at the site, and that it could have fueled some of the flames.

“The rig was on fire. A couple of trailers were on fire,” Yates said.

Township fire Chief Mark Grimm said the blaze destroyed the drilling rig.

Range’s safety liaison for the township, Hugh White, also was with the chief and county public safety workers to help with the emergency at the command center, which was about 2,000 feet away from the center of the fire, Grimm said.

“It definitely was a concern for us from the start, but having a Range person there at the command post, we were confident there was nothing coming out of it,” Grimm said. “Our action plan was in effect, and that’s why you need to take time to (train) so when it does happen you’re not behind the eight ball.”

Range followed the proper protocol with the township in handling the emergency.

“The biggest issue was for the first few moments getting a water supply,” Grimm said. “Once we did, we could take care of (the fire).”

Range just started drilling at the location, Pitzarella said.

“There are shallow pockets of gas through the Earth’s strata, and we have connected a small burner unit to burn the gas. It operates occasionally as needed,” Pitzarella said.

“This is nothing whatsoever like what you might consider a typical flare or flare stack,” he said.

He said Wednesday’s fire was the first that Range has encountered in the 10 years the Southpointe-based driller has been involved in shale development.

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