This article originally provided by Wheeling News-Register

June 8, 2010

Methane May Burn for Days

Those hoping for a look told to stay away from scene

By KEF O. HOWARD Staff Writer

LIMESTONE - The fire is contained to the drilling site, but it may be several days before the cause of a Marshall County gas explosion is determined.

Flames continued to light the sky late Monday at a natural gas drilling site on Beam's Lane, about 3.5 miles east of Moundsville off U.S. 250 where seven workers were injured Monday. A section of U.S. 250 had to be shut down after the explosion sent fire about 75 feet into the air.

The gas will continue to burn off for two to three days, Kristi Gittins, spokeswoman for Dallas, Texas-based Chief Oil & Gas LLC, told the Associated Press.

As it does, a team from Texas-based Wild Well Control, a company that specializes in rig fires, is moving out damaged equipment. Once those workers can safely reach the well, they will cap it, Gittins said.

The explosion occurred at 1:15 a.m. Monday. Marshall County 911 dispatchers received a call from a resident who said they had heard an explosion. A few minutes later another call was received from a worker at the drilling site confirming the explosion and large fire.

Moundsville Volunteer Fire Chief Danny Holmes said his crew arrived at the scene within minutes, but discovered no drilling company employees. Holmes said before emergency responders arrived, the injured men had gotten into private vehicles and were taken by co-workers to local hospitals. Four of the men drove to Reynolds Memorial Hospital in Glen Dale for treatment, while three others drove to Ohio Valley Medical Center in Wheeling.

All of the workers were later transferred by ambulance to the West Penn Burn Center in Pittsburgh. By Monday afternoon, two of the workers had been released. The five others remained hospitalized in fair condition.

One of the injured, who was questioned by sheriff's deputies while receiving treatment at Reynolds, was able to give some information about the events leading up to the blast, said Marshall County Chief Deputy Kevin Cecil.

"There were seven workers on the drill, changing a drill bit, when they started to hear what they described as a loud rumbling," Cecil said.

Before the crew could evacuate the drilling pad, the explosion occurred, Cecil said.

Twenty fire department crews and two emergency management teams from Marshall and Belmont counties were called to the scene to battle the fire. Marshall County Emergency Management Director Tom Hart said firefighters could only get within about 1,000 feet of the flames. Officials from the West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection, OSHA and Consol Energy also were at the site, Hart said.

The fire presents no danger to any structures or people, said Bill Hendershot, an inspector with the state Department of Environmental Protection's Office of Oil and Gas.

Gittins said the drilling crew works for Union Drilling Inc. of Buckhannon, W.Va. The company was contracted by Chief Oil & Gas to drill for natural gas through an abandoned coal mine owned by Consol Energy, Gittins said.

Marshall County Commissioner Jake Padlow said the land is the site of the former Alexander Coal Mine.

Gittins said workers had been drilling in the area for several days before the explosion. She said the workers had drilled to a little deeper than 1,000 feet when they hit a "shallow pocket" of methane gas in the mine. Gittins said something ignited the gas, resulting in a large explosion.

On Monday evening, Gittins commended local emergency responders.

"They did a great job securing the area," Gittins said.

She said the company has brought in "well control personnel" from Houston-based Wild Well Control to continue efforts to extinguish the fire and determine the cause.

"Our well control specialists have deemed the site secure," Gittins said. "The pad site is contained and the rig is disabled. The well is still flaring, which is actually what you want to see happening.

"The well control personnel are currently clearing equipment from the site to better assess the fire. The plan is to extinguish the fire but it could take two to three days."

Chief Oil & Gas currently has 15 gas wells in West Virginia and has been drilling in the Marcellus Shale for a decade without any major incidents, Gittins said.

U.S. 250 was reopened at about 2:30 p.m. Monday, but officials are asking county residents to stay away from the area as much as possible while crews are still working.

The operation was less than a week old when the blast occurred: DEP records show a permit was issued June 2 to AB Resources PA LLC of Brecksville, Ohio.

Gittins said AB Resources is the operator of the well, while Chief has a "participation interest." It is Chief's responsibility to drill and complete the well, she said.

Methane is a known risk when working near old mines, and the company typically takes a variety of precautions, including venting systems. Gittins could not immediately say what precautions were in place at this site.

Prentice Cline, OSHA's assistant area director in Charleston, said blowout preventers are typically required on gas rigs.

But DEP spokeswoman Kathy Cosco said the Union rig didn't have one because it hadn't yet reached a depth where a blowout preventer is required. When the accident occurred, it was still drilling a hole through rock, not pumping gas.

OSHA cited Union Drilling in 2009 for alleged workplace safety and health violations found at a New Salem, Pa., worksite. Penalties totaled $54,600.

Monday's explosion is the latest in a string of accidents related to the rapidly growing pursuit of Marcellus gas.

In Pennsylvania, environmental regulators are investigating what caused another well to spew explosive gas and polluted water for about 16 hours last week until it was brought under control. That company, EOG Resources Inc., has been barred from drilling until an investigation is complete and necessary changes made.


West Virginia Surface Owners' Rights Organization
1500 Dixie Street, Charleston, West Virginia 25311