Three burned at Marcellus shale drilling site near Avella
Three workers were burned in what neighbors described as an explosion and fire last night at a Marcellus shale drilling site in Washington County.
The blast occurred at the Chesapeake Energy site off Meadowcroft Road and First Street in Avella, a community in Independence Township near the West Virginia border, state Department of Environmental Protection and county 911 officials said.
Five "frac tanks" — mobile steel storage tanks used to hold liquids — burned until 9:30 p.m., DEP spokeswoman Katy Gresh said. She said the three gas wells were not affected by the flames.
"At approximately 6:15 p.m. a flash fire occurred, igniting natural gas liquids storage tanks on the Chesapeake Appalachia, LLC, Powers well site in Avella," read a statement from Stacey Brodak, director of corporate development at Chesapeake's offices in Canonsburg.
"Three contract employees are injured and have been transported to the hospital. All wells are shut in, and there is no danger to area residents or threat to the environment," the statement read.
Brodak said the cause of the fire is not known.
"I was eating dinner when all of a sudden there was an explosion," said Katie Leeper, whose home is on a hill across the valley from the well. "I didn't know it was an explosion at first, but the whole house shook and the windows rattled.
"I looked outside, saw all the neighbors, looked over the hill and saw the big fire."
Another neighbor, Robert Dalesio, who said his house is 650 yards from the well, thought a plane had crashed.
"I first thought a C-130 (military transport aircraft) went down because they fly over here all the time," he said. "There was a pretty good concussion. I looked over and saw the whole hillside on fire."
One injured worker was flown to Allegheny General Hospital, and another to UPMC Mercy. It was not clear where the third worker was taken for treatment. The extent of their injuries was not known.
Gresh said workers had just completed the hydraulic fracturing — or "fracking" — process last week. The gas flares or flare stacks, used to burn off waste or excess gas, were lit earlier this week, Dalesio said.
"This was the grand finale of it," Dalesio said.
Gresh said the fracking water was flowing back into the holding tanks when the explosion occurred.
“They actually started the process Monday, and were just about to wrap up,” Gresh said.
She also said the fires apparently were sparked when what is known as “wet gas” or compounds that form natural gas condensate somehow ignited.
“There will be a thorough investigation of the accident in cooperation with the appropriate regulatory agencies. The wells involved had already been completed, including hydraulic fracture stimulation,” Brodak said.
Gresh said DEP inspectors will be back at the site this morning.
Chesapeake Energy Corp. is based in Oklahoma City.
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