Bradford County Well Control Incident

If you’ve read the papers or watched the evening news these past few days, you’re probably familiar with the Marcellus Shale related incident in LeRoy Township, Bradford County. While no one was injured and little environmental impact has been recorded to date, we here at the EID Northeast Marcellus Initiative thought it was important to lay out in a straightforward manner information related to this incident and shed light on claims made in the aftermath of this incident by the anti-affordable energy movement, who, as you can imagine, are looking to score political points.

First and foremost, and as mentioned above, no one was injured in this accident. There was not an explosion or fire. Initial testing of nearby waterways show “minimal if any” impact, with additional testing underway by state environmental regulators. As a precautionary measure, seven families were temporarily relocated in the immediate aftermath of the event; six have since returned to their homes.

So what happened? According to Chesapeake Energy officials, at approximately 11:45 p.m. on April 19, an equipment failure occurred during well-completion activities. For those of you not familiar with the term “well-completion,” it’s the stage in development that follows the drilling phase. It’s also the stage where the well is hydraulically fractured – a process that involves a large volume of water, sand and additives to stimulate the formation. In the coming days and weeks, state regulators will conduct a thorough investigation to determine the root cause of this incident.

The Wilkes-Barre Times Leader reported the incident this way:

“Chesapeake Energy, operator of the ATGAS 2H well pad on Southside Road in Leroy Township, said an equipment failure just before midnight Tuesday into Wednesday during completion procedures, or hydraulic fracturing, allowed drilling liquid to spill from the pad.

“Chesapeake spokesman Rory Sweeney said pressure in the well broke a piece of completion equipment installed to hydraulically fracture, or “frack,” the well, forcing pressurized liquid through the equipment and through the broken part.

“Sweeney characterized the accident as more of a leak than a full blowout, and state Department of Environmental Protection Emergency Response Manager John Erick said “It’s not the classic blowout where things are blowing out of the top of the well,” but a less dramatic sort of blowout.

“There were no injuries reported in the incident.”

Chris Tucker, or colleague here at Energy in Depth, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal stressed the importance of learning from what caused this incident and making sure it doesn’t happen again:

“Chris Tucker, a spokesman for industry group Energy in Depth, said it was too early to draw any conclusions from the incident but noted that there are more than 1 million active wells in the U.S.

“When accidents occur, however rare they may be, the right approach is to figure out what happened, correct it, and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Mr. Tucker wrote in an email. “The wrong approach is to blast out a press release 20 minutes after it happens declaring that oil and natural gas can no longer be produced safely in America.”

As you can imagine, those opposed to affordable, reliable, American made energy did just that. In an effort to score cheap political point, and not to be outdone by its Pennsylvania counterpart, the Catskill MountainKeeper, an anti-Marcellus organization based in New York, fired off a missive to reporters yesterday afternoon chalk-full of statements not supported by fact that can be easily contrasted with the facts reported by the Times Leader.

“Current procedure ensures not only that natural gas companies undergo almost no safety and procedural review, but also that these same companies are shielded from having to disclose information regarding the specifics of chemicals used during fracking operations – even though many of these chemicals have proven carcinogenic and radioactive.”

Apparently, the author of this press release majored in fiction writing. In Pennsylvania, natural gas operators are required by law to have what’s called a Preparedness, Prevention and Contingency plan at the well site and on file with County emergency response officials and state environmental regulators. As for the “disclosure claim,” every last chemical used in the fracturing process is contained in this plan and also available on DEP’s website. As for radioactive chemicals going down hole? That’s a claim we’ve never heard before – but hey, these guys aren’t bound by facts or science, just the theory of fear.

A 3-day rule consistently applies to everything put out by these folks – wait three days and the facts generally dispense with everything they’ve said.  Remember the “game-changing” New York Times series that was demolished by John Hanger, among others? Remember the Cornell study about methane releases by the Cornell professor who couldn’t even do simple arithmetic when challenged? These people have a playbook and it has something to do with throwing stuff against the wall and seeing how much of it sticks – but it’s not that much.

As we receive new information on what caused this incident, we’ll be sure to keep you updated. Until then, enjoy the holiday weekend.


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