Ohio town fracked by well leak

A fossil fuel needle desperately trying to get another fix hit an artery and leaked oily mud and methane into a creek near Beverly, Ohio, forcing evacuation of people nearby. Once again, state agencies had to deal with a problem caused by a private company. This collateral damage drew in yet another fracking opponent, this time one founded by an opponent of the first Superfund.

Dean Narciso wrote for the Columbus Dispatch 8 May 2014, Shale well leaks during drilling process, forcing evacuations in Morgan County,

A Morgan County shale well being drilled in preparation for fracking began leaking on Sunday, forcing the evacuation of nearby residents.

State and federal environmental emergency-response teams and the drilling company finally contained the mess yesterday, but not before it reached a nearby creek.

The leak was discovered on Sunday, when about 10 gallons per minute of oily drilling fluid, called mud, gushed from the drill site, according to an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency report filed on Monday.

Seven residents from three houses were evacuated because of the danger that escaping natural gas might lead to an explosion.

According to a U.S. EPA report, a “pocket of unexpected natural gas was encountered” during drilling. That caused overpressurization and failure of the well head. One hundred barrels of drilling mud spilled from the well on Sunday, according to the well’s owner, PDC Energy of Colorado, which said some of it reached an unnamed creek near Beverly, Ohio.

Who’s PDC? According to its website:

PDC operates in Colorado within the liquid-rich Wattenberg Field and the Appalachian Basin including the emerging liquid-rich Utica Shale play in Ohio and the Marcellus Shale in West Virginia. PDC’s strategy is simple: increase shareholder value through the growth of reserves and production, while operating properties in an efficient manner to maximize the cash flow and earnings potential of its assets.

So PDC is pocking at the Marcellus Shale in West Virginia while Spectra is getting gas from the same shale in Pennsylvania.

PDC’s website also says:

The Company is committed to optimizing margins through efficient drilling operations, sound well management, and environmental stewardship.

Here’s PDC’s environmental stewardship in action, from the Columbus Dispatch story:

An unknown amount of wet gas — a mixture containing crude oil — also escaped.

Why are we letting anyone inject hundreds of barrels of an unknown mix of oil and who-knows-what into the ground underneath towns and drinking water?

A fracking company representative phrased it interestingly:

“Obviously, the very first thing is safety to personnel and anyone in the area,” Edwards said. “ And we minimize what impacts we have to the environment.”

Indeed they do minimize the damage to the environment, as in the fossil fuel industry tries to say it’s minimal. Remember, according to the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) as reported by Oregon Live, it’s just an “abnormal operating condition”, not even a reportable incident, unless it involves a death or injury or “the loss of more than $50,000 in product”. I wonder who reports how much “product” was lost? And if the fracking company doesn’t consider that oily mud to be “product”? As for the people who were evacuated, apparently they don’t count.

Here’s somebody who doesn’t think pumping oily mud into a creek and evacuating local residents is minimal:

Teresa Mills, of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice, said she fears that these spills occur more often than the public hears.

“It is shameful that citizens don’t have a way to get this information,” she said. “It’s not on any state Web page.”

And citizens still don’t have much information, according to an update by Jessica White for the Columbus Dispatch 9 May 2014, Measures to contain Morgan County shale-drilling spill fell short,

When workers drilling a shale well in Morgan County hit a pocket of natural gas on Sunday, at least two safety measures failed to keep a slurry of gas and chemicals from spilling out.

First, a blowout preventer — similar to the one that failed in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill — didn’t stop thousands of gallons of gas, crude oil and benzene, which is poisonous, from escaping.

Second, the well pad on which the drilling rig is situated didn’t keep the spill from reaching the land.

Here’s the best part:

“We don’t know what went wrong,” [Ohio Department of Natural Resources spokesman Mark] Bruce said, who described the leak as rare. “PDC is investigating.”

If they ODNR “investigates” like many fossil fuel companies have done in many previous incidents, we’ll never find out what went wrong. Maybe being a state agency they’ll do more than PHMSA did in that three-month Williams Co. leak at Suavie Island, Oregon or in that explosion and fire near Plymouth, Washington.

What’s the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) that wants to know how often fracking spills occur? According to CHEJ’s About web page:

Center for Health, Environment & Justice is a national, nonprofit, tax-exempt organization that provides organizing and technical assistance to grassroots community groups in the environmental health and justice movement. CHEJ was founded in 1981 by Lois Gibbs, who helped win the relocation of over 900 families from their neighborhood which was contaminated by chemicals leaking from the Love Canal landfill in Niagara Falls, NY. Through this effort, Gibbs and her neighbors woke up the nation to recognize the link between people’s exposures to dangerous chemicals in their community and serious public health impacts.

We’ve seen CHEJ involved before, in Disney backs off fracking. And CHEJ has posted extensively about fracking.

They also are starting to notice pipelines; CHEJ picked up an L.A. Times story about the Williams Co. Opal, Wyoming explosion. And they’ve picked up a story about opponents to LNG exports. Hm, which pipeline is in between fracking and LNG exports from Florida?

Another organization summed up the general state of the whole fracked methane industry, from well to pipeline to LNG export, in that Columbus Dispatch update:

“The public has received repeated assurance that Ohio has appropriate rules and regulations, and there is nothing to fear,” said Jack Shaner, deputy director of the Ohio Environmental Council. “ (But) incidents like this are a clear and present danger.”

Are there any better regulations in Alabama, Georgia, or Florida for fracked methane pipelines from for example GA DNR? Or are such pipelines also a clear and present danger to our fragile drinking water aquifer, our wildlife and forests, and our property rights?


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