Spill at Marcellus Shale drilling site in Bradford County prompts evacuation
Published: Wednesday, April 20, 2011, 1:00 PM Updated: Wednesday, April 20, 2011, 3:08 PM
Seven families in Bradford County have been asked to evacuate following a large spill during fracking operations in the Marcellus Shale at a Chesapeake Energy well west of Towanda, Pa. Earlier reports that there was a blow-out were inaccurate, according to company officials.
A local Emergency Management official said he didn’t believe the families had gone anywhere.
“It’s literally on top of a mountain,” said Francis “Skip” Roupp, deputy director of the Bradford County Emergency Management Agency.
According to Chesapeake spokesman Brian Grove, “At approximately 11:45 p.m. on April 19, an equipment failure occurred during well-completion activities, allowing the release of completion fluids from a well at a location in Leroy Township, Bradford County, Pa.”
He said, “there have been no injuries or natural gas emissions to the atmosphere.”
Local news sources are reporting that thousands of gallons of fracking fluid have spewed over and beyond the well pad, but an official on the scene told the Patriot-News that is not accurate. “It wasn’t spewed in the air,” he said.
An equipment failure allowed flowback fluids to wash onto the well pad in volumes that overwhelmed the multiple containment precautions in place. The official noted those containment features were already at least partially full because of several days of rain in the northern tier.
“The theory right now is it’s a cracked well casing,” said Roupp at the Bradford County EMA. But no-one knows for sure, he said, because “they don’t have it under control yet.”
Roupp said Chesapeake had attempted to get the flowback under control by pumping drilling mud down the well, but the mud “wasn’t heavy enough.”
“They’re bringing in heavier mud,” he said.
A creek that feeds into the Susquehanna River has reportedly been contaminated.
In a prepared statement, Grove said “An undetermined amount of water has flowed off the location. Crews are working to minimize any impacts to the nearby Towanda Creek.”
Roupp said as of about noon, there were “no adverse effects” observed in the creek. “It’s helpful there’s high water,” he said.
According to Grove, “Crews are on location working to control the leak and contain the fluid flow. All relevant emergency agencies have been notified and are either on location or en route. Well-control specialists Boots and Coots have been mobilized and are prepared to respond if necessary. All non-essential vehicles have been removed from the location.”
The fracking process occurs after the well has been drilled. Millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals and sand are pumped at high pressure deep into the ground to fracture the shale and release the natural gas trapped inside. Some of those fluids return to the surface with the gas.
The Chesapeake website says “We always strive for excellence and are satisfied with nothing less. We will move quickly to rectify any environmental problem associated with our operations and address any issue that might arise.”
DEP spokeswoman Katy Gresh said the agency has at least eight staffers on scene and that the fluids are no longer flowing into the stream. She said there is no evidence of aquatic life killed, but “that’s something we’re actively seeking out.”
Gresh said DEP is working with Chesapeake to get the well under control.