A report released today by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection found untrained personnel and the failure to use proper well control procedures were the principal causes of a June 3 natural gas well blowout in Clearfield County. DEP Sec. John Hanger says, “This could have been a catastrophic incident. Had the gas blowing out of this well ignited, the human cost would have been tragic, and had an explosion allowed this well to discharge wastewater for days or weeks, the environmental damage would have been significant.” The blowout allowed natural gas and hydraulic fracturing fluid to escape from the well for 16 hours before it could be brought under control. Well operator EOG Resources and its contractor, C.C. Forbes LLC, lost control of the well while performing post-fracturing well cleanout activities. Hanger says, “This incident was preventable and should never have occurred.” EOG Resources was hit with a $353,400 fine and C.C Forbes must pay $46,000. Part of the fine was imposed to help cover the cost of the investigation. EOG was also ordered to take nine corrective actions and C.C. Forbes was ordered to take six corrective actions. Hanger says those orders were also sent out to all Marcellus Shale Drillers.
The letter stated in part:
* A snubbing unit, which prevents pipes from ejecting uncontrollably from a well, may be used to clean out the composite frack plugs and sand during post-fracturing (post-frack) if coil tubing is not an option.
* A minimum of two pressure barriers should be in place during all post-frack cleanout operations.
* Any blowout preventer equipment should be tested immediately after its installation and before its use. Records of these tests should be kept on file at the well site or with the well site supervisor.
* A sign with DEP’s 24-hour emergency telephone number and local emergency response numbers, including 911 and the county communications center, should be posted prominently at each well site.
* At least one well site supervisor who has a current well control certification from a recognized institution should be on location during post-frack cleanout operations. These certifications should be in possession at all times.
* A remote-controlled, independently powered blowout preventer unit, which allows workers to control what’s happening on the rig at a safe distance, must be located a minimum of 100 feet from the well and operational during all post-frack cleanout operations.
Hanger says most drillers are already complying with the mandates.
Following a 40-day suspension of operations in Pennsylvania, EOG Resources and C.C. Forbes were permitted to resume all well completion activities. The company operates approximately 297 active wells in Pennsylvania, 139 of which are in the Marcellus Shale formation.