Gas Drilling Accidents
August 4, 2010, The Pike County Courier
Man Says Gas in Water Well Ignited, Burned Him
CHICORA — The Associated Press reports that a western Pennsylvania man was working on a water slide for his kids when natural gas seeping from his water well exploded, burning him.??Thirty-three-year-old Paul Edwards, of Donegal Township, Butler County, spoke to WPXI-TV Monday from the burn center at West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh.
Edwards says he was burned Sunday afternoon after he flipped an electrical switch. Edwards says investigators believe the switch sparked the explosion, which remains under investigation by the state police and the state Department of Environmental Protection.??Edwards says the blast blew his shirt off and, seconds later, his skin was hanging off. He’s being treated for second-degree burns. Edwards lives about 40 miles north of Pittsburgh.
June 9, 2010, CNN
Rig Survivors: BP Ordered Shortcut on Day of the Blast
By Scott Bronstein and Wayne Drash, based on a report by Anderson Cooper
The morning the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, a BP executive and a Transocean official argued over how to proceed with the drilling, rig survivors told CNN’s Anderson Cooper in an exclusive interview.
The survivors’ account paints perhaps the most detailed picture yet of what happened on the deepwater rig — and the possible causes of the April 20 explosion.
The BP official wanted workers to replace heavy mud, used to keep the well’s pressure down, with lighter seawater to help speed a process that was costing an estimated $750,000 a day and was already running five weeks late, rig survivors told CNN.
BP won the argument, said Doug Brown, the rig’s chief mechanic. "He basically said, ‘Well, this is how it’s gonna be.’ "
"That’s what the big argument was about," added Daniel Barron III.
Shortly after the exchange, chief driller Dewey Revette expressed concern and opposition too, the workers said, and on the drilling floor, they chatted among themselves.
"I don’t ever remember doing this," they said, according to Barron.
"I think that’s why Dewey was so reluctant to try to do it," Barron said, "because he didn’t feel it was the right way to have things done."
Revette was among the 11 workers killed when the rig exploded that night.
In the CNN interviews, the workers described a corporate culture of cutting staff and ignoring warning signs ahead of the blast. They said BP routinely cut corners and pushed ahead despite concerns about safety.
The rig survivors also said it was always understood that you could get fired if you raised safety concerns that might delay drilling. Some co-workers had been fired for speaking out, they said.
It can cost up to $1 million a day to operate a deepwater rig, according to industry experts.
Safety was "almost used as a crutch by the company," Barron said. He said he was once scolded for standing on a bucket on the rig, yet the next day, Transocean ordered a crane to continue operating amid high winds, against its own policies. "It’s like they used it against us — the safety policies — you know, to their advantage.
"I don’t think there was ever a plan set in place, because no one ever thought this was gonna ever happen," he added.
BP spokesman Robert Wine would not comment on specific allegations, saying the company has to "wait for the investigations to be completed. We can’t prejudge them."
"BP’s priority is always safety," he said.
Transocean, the world’s largest offshore drilling contractor, said its top priority is safety.
"There is no scenario or circumstance under which it will be compromised," the company said in a written statement. "So critical is safety at Transocean that every crew member has stop-work authority, a real-time method by which all work is halted should any employee suspect an unsafe situation or operation."
In Washington on Tuesday, Rep. Nick Rahall, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, sought more answers. In a letter to Steven Newman, CEO of Transocean, Rahall said records from the rig indicate 18 people at work on the second shift with "zero engineers, electricians, mechanics or subsea supervisors" on duty the night of the explosion.
Rahall added that payroll records show 20 crewmen, including seven of the 11 men who died, had worked a 24-hour shift six days before the explosion. Rig workers typically work 12-hour days.
"Although these reports do not provide a complete picture of who exactly was working during the time of the explosion and in the days leading up to it, when combined with the ongoing BP internal investigation that suggests that inattentiveness may have been a contributing factor in the disaster, I have serious questions about whether enough people were working on the night of April 20 to adequately handle the complex operations that were being performed, or if crew fatigue caused by extended shifts may have played a role," wrote Rahall, D-West Virginia, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.
Rahall called on the company to give his committee more detailed logs and a further explanation of its staffing — a request Transocean said it would meet.
But Transocean said no worker put in a 24-hour day, and the documents Rahall cited didn’t tell the whole picture. Daily drilling reports track operations and "certain personnel," it said, "but does not use them to catalog complete crew shifts or the actual hours worked by each crewmember."
"At the time of the accident, the Deepwater Horizon and its crew had compiled seven consecutive years of operations without a single lost-time safety incident," the company said in a written statement. "The vessel was properly and professionally manned; there was no shortage of technical expertise, nor did any crewmember work a 24-hour shift."
CNN was given access to individual time sheets that appear to back up Transocean’s claim that no employees worked 24-hour shifts on April 14, six days before the explosion that eventually sank the rig.
Other documents reviewed by CNN seem to indicate that additional salaried workers may have been on the job that don’t show up on time sheets, possibly refuting the committee’s claim the rig was short staffed on April 20.
The rig workers have filed a negligence suit against BP, Transocean, oil field services contractor Halliburton and other companies involved with the deepwater rig.
"I’ve seen gross negligence, and this conduct is criminal," said Steve Gordon, the lawyer representing the men. "There’s a crime scene sitting 5,000 feet below the water."
Brown, the rig’s mechanic, had traveled with the rig from South Korea, where it was made nearly a decade ago. He had seen the mechanical crew get downsized over the years. Yet as the rig aged, the engines began having more problems.
"It became overwhelming," he said. "We couldn’t keep up with the flow of it. … We constantly over the years kept telling them, ‘Hey, we need more help back here.’
"They pretty much just said, ‘Well, we’ll look into it.’ "
About nine months ago, Brown said, he got an additional first engineer, yet the crew was still overloaded with work.
Even more alarming, the rig survivors said, was the amount of resistance the well was giving them. "We had problems with it from the day we got on," Matthew Jacobs said.
Nearly every day, Jacobs said, "we had problems with that well."
Barron said it was like an eerie cloud hung over the well being dug 5,000 feet into the sea.
"There was always like an ominous feeling," he said. "This well did not want to be drilled. … It just seemed like we were messing with Mother Nature."
At times, the drill got stuck. Many times, it "kicked," meaning gas was shooting back through the mud at an alarming rate.
"I’ve seen a lot of gas coming up from muds on different wells, and the highest I’ve ever seen in my 11 years was 1,500 units. And this well gave us 3,000," Brown said. "I’ve never been on a well with that high of gas coming out of the mud. That was kind of letting me know this well was something to be reckoned with."
It all came to a head at 9:56 p.m., when the first of three explosions rocked Deepwater Horizon, 52 miles southeast of Venice, Louisiana, with 126 people aboard. Tiles fell from the ceiling, walls collapsed, and people ran for their lives. It reminded Matt Jacobs of the movie "Titanic."
"It looked like you was looking at the face of death," he said. "You could hear it, see it, smell it."
He scrambled to the lifeboat deck. Jacobs had been trained to fight fires aboard the rig. But when he looked at the flames shooting 150 feet into the air, he knew there was nothing they could do. "There is no way we can put that fire out," he thought.
Jacobs hopped in a lifeboat. He screamed for co-workers to jump aboard. A second explosion rocked the rig. The lifeboat, still suspended in the air, went into a free fall of about 3 feet.
"Here I am on a lifeboat that’s supposed to help me get off this rig," Jacobs thought. "And I’m gonna wind up dying."
He bowed his head and prayed.
Now, 50 days later, the survivors are telling their stories. It’s become part of their everyday lives. They can’t shake what happened that day, even when they close their eyes at night.
"It’s like being in a neverending nightmare," Brown said. "You dream about it. You see it in your sleep. Then, we wake up in the morning, and we realize it’s not a dream. It’s real. … It doesn’t end for us."
June 7, 2010, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
PA Suspends Company’s Drilling After Clearfield Blowout
The Department of Environmental Protection today ordered EOG Resources Inc. to suspend its natural gas well drilling activities in Pennsylvania after Thursday’s blowout at one of the company’s Clearfield County wells.
A news release said the blowout sent natural gas and at least 35,000 gallons of drilling wastewater into the sky and over the ground for 16 hours.
DEP Secretary John Hanger said that while the order bans all drilling and hydrofracturing, or fracking, operations for specified periods of time, the suspension will remain in effect until DEP has completed a comprehensive investigation into the leak and the company has made any needed changes.
The order prohibits EOG Resources from drilling activities up to seven days; from engaging in fracking operations up to 14 days; and from completing or initiating post-fracking operations for 30 days in any wells throughout the state. These actions and operations cannot resume until the department agrees that the investigation has been fully completed.
June 7, 2010, Associated Press
7 Burned in W.Va. Gas Well Black Likely to Survive
By Vicki Smith (AP)
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A crew drilling a natural gas well through an abandoned coal mine in West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle hit a pocket of methane gas that ignited, triggering an explosion that burned seven workers, state and company officials said Monday.
The seven workers were taken to the West Penn Burn Center in Pittsburgh and were in fair condition, a hospital spokeswoman said. They are expected to recover.
The explosion happened about 1:30 a.m. in a rural area outside Moundsville, about 55 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. A column of fire shot at least 70 feet high, but the flames fell to 40 feet within hours. Gas continued to burn late Monday afternoon.
A team from Texas-based Wild Well Control, a company that specializes in rig fires, will decide whether to let the methane burn or try to extinguish the flames, said Kristi Gittins, spokeswoman for Dallas,Texas-based Chief Oil & Gas LLC.
The fire presents no danger to any structures or people, said Bill Hendershot, an inspector with the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Oil and Gas.
The operation was less than a week old: DEP records show a permit was issued June 2 to AB Resources PA LLC of Brecksville, Ohio.
Gittins said AB Resources is the operator of the well, while Chief has a "participation interest." It is Chief’s responsibility to drill and complete the well, she said.
Chief’s site contractor, Union Drilling of Buckhannon, had drilled the first 1,000 feet of a second well on the property and was preparing to install surface casing when crews apparently hit and ignited the methane, she said.
Crews had drilled through the abandoned Consol Energy mine before without incident, she said.
Methane is a known risk when working near old mines, and the company typically takes a variety of precautions, including venting systems. Gittins could not immediately say what precautions were in place at this site.
Prentice Cline, assistant area director for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Charleston, said blowout preventers are typically required on gas rigs.
But DEP spokeswoman Kathy Cosco said the Union rig didn’t have one because it hadn’t yet reached a depth where a blowout preventer is required. When the accident occurred, it was still drilling a hole through rock, not pumping gas.
Blowout preventers are required when the driller has reached its target formation undergound or when a high volume of pressure can be expected, Cosco said.
Five of the injured workers were employed by Union and two worked for BJ Services Co. of Houston, Texas.
Union issued a statement saying it was "deeply concerned" about the explosion and the treatment of the injured. The company said it is cooperating with all investigators.
The BJ Services workers were among four that had just arrived on site to place the casing, said Gary Flaharty, a spokesman for the parent company, Baker Hughes Inc. of Houston. The crew runs a safety check at the start of each shift and was just preparing to do that when the blast occurred.
Flaharty could not provide any details about the injured employees but said they’re being treated for burns and are expected to survive.
OSHA area director Jeff Funke said he learned of the accident shortly after 8 a.m., and two investigators were dispatched. However, they cannot enter the site and begin work until the fire is out, he said.
OSHA created a program to deal with gas drilling in the vast Marcellus shale fields about five years ago and has been proactively inspecting sites to ensure compliance with safety regulations, he said. The gas reserve is about the size of Greece and lies more than a mile beneath New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.
OSHA knew there would be a lot of drilling in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, "and we did our best to get out in front of that curve," Funke said.
About 98 percent of the region’s drilling now involves Marcellus shale, he said.
Union owns 71 rigs and specializes in unconventional drilling techniques such as the horizontal drilling that is required to fracture tightly compacted rock and free the gas in Marcellus shale.
Gittins, the spokeswoman for Chief, said her company has drilled about 75 Marcellus wells in West Virginia and Pennsylvania so far, with about 15 of them in West Virginia.
This was the company’s first major accident, she said.
However, it’s the latest in a string of accidents related to the rapidly growing pursuit of Marcellus gas.
In Pennsylvania, environmental regulators are investigating what caused another well to spew explosive gas and polluted water for about 16 hours last week until it was brought under control.
A crew of eight was evacuated from the Clearfield County site Thursday, but no one was injured. That accident involved EOG Resources Inc. of Houston.
June 7, 2010, MYFOXDFW.COM
North Texas Gas Explosion Kills 1, Hurts Several State, Federal Agencies Investigating
DALLAS – A gas line explosion in North Texas that sent enormous flames and plumes of smoke into the sky killed one person and left at least seven injured.
The blast erupted at about 3 p.m. at 2101 County Road 1120 in Hood County, near Highway 67, south of Fort Worth.
An electric company crew drilling holes for power lines accidentally sparked the explosion by hitting a 36-inch gas line owned by Enterprise Products Partners L.P., according to the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department.
The body of a man was found about 200 yards from the explosion site. He was a crewmember from C&H Powerline Construction.
Seven other men on that crew were treated for burns at two hospitals. At Glen Rose Medical Center, four were discharged, one was listed in stable condition and another was being treated in the ER. Another man was treated at Harris Methodist Hospital but his condition was not known.
In the aftermath of the chaotic situation, it was initially believed that three of the workers had died.
The massive blaze consisted of flames hundreds of feet high and could be seen from at least 30 miles away. Additionally, Sky 4 helicopter photojournalist Mike Warner said it was so intense he could feel the heat from nearly a mile away.
The force of the blast and resulting burn also generated spinning spirals of smoke resembling funnel clouds, often called dust devils. ?Area residents report hearing a loud explosion or series of explosions. They also said they felt the earth rumble and their homes shake for several minutes. ??Tracy Mann heard the ruckus and said she initially thought a summer storm was brewing. But the situation quickly turned into something Mann knew was unusual.
"Boy that has really lasted a long time for some thunder," Mann said. "All of our windows were shaking."
A brushfire sparked by the explosion consumed about 30 acres surrounding the blast site, Warner said.
All fire departments from Johnson, Hood and Somervell counties responded to the disaster.
Several air ambulance helicopters were dispatched to the scene. ??The fireball was extinguished by about 5 p.m.
On Tuesday, both the National Transportation Safety Board and the Texas Railroad Commission were investigating the accident.
September 20, 2009, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Sudden Death of Ecosystem Ravages Long Creek ‘Everything is Being Killed’
161 Aquatic Species have Died Along Dunkard Creek
by Don Hopey
Dunkard Creek which meanders lazily back and forth across the border of Pennsylvania and West Virginia was one of the most ecologically diverse streams in both states, containing freshwater mussels, mudpuppy salamanders and a host of fish species from minnows to 3-foot-long muskies. Today 161 species of fish, mussels, salamanders, crayfish and aquatic insects have been wiped out along the creek. While the EPA has yet to pinpoint the cause, chemical analysis shows the creek water contains extremely high total dissolved solids or TDS and chlorides, properties found in wastewater from Marcellus Shale. The state agencies are now looking at the possibility that someone has illegally dumped drilling wastewater into the creek to avoid the expense of complying with laws governing its disposal. CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL STORY
September 18, 2009
Hazardous Chemicals Cited in Drilling Spill
Pa. Officials Monitoring Creek; Test Results Expected Next Week
By Tom Wilber
Cabot Oil & Gas reported between 6,000 and 8,000 gallons of an agent used to stimulate natural gas production leaked from the Heitsman Well and flowed into a wetland that feeds the Stevens Creek, Dumrock, PA. Drilling fluids that spilled into the headwaters of the creek contain a class of hazardous chemicals called volatile organic compounds, according to the latest information from environmental officials. They are evaluating the risks the spill may pose to an aquifer that supplies drinking water in the rural community. Evaluation of the accident has been made much more difficult because the documents kept on site detailing properties and hazards of drilling fluids were “relatively vague”. The gas industry is exempt from a provision in the federal Clean Drinking Water Act that requires full disclosure of chemicals injected into the ground. CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL STORY
9/13/2009 Elmira Star-Gazette.
EPA’s study of Gas Drilling in Wyoming Could Impact Local Operations
By Tom Wilber
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has found evidence of caustic chemicals associated with natural gas production in 11 private water supplies in the state of Wyoming. Those findings have intensified battle lines over controversial drilling regulations proposed by Reps. Maurice Hinchey, D-Hurley and Diana DeGette, a Democrat from Colorado that require companies to fully disclose information about chemical solutions they pump into gas wells to increase production. The bill known as the FRAC Act is intended to protect underground water supplies. Maurice Hinchey has said, "This is not prohibitive. We need safeguards against reckless and careless people who are looking out for their own interests and don’t give a damn about anybody else … Fresh air and clean water are the two most important elements of living on this planet. Without them, we will not be around." CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL STORY
July 31, 2009, ProPublica
Water Problems From Drilling Are More Frequent Than PA Officials Said
by Abrahm Lustgarten
Methane related to the natural gas industry has contaminated water wells in at least seven Pennsylvania counties since 2004 and is common enough that the state hired a full-time inspector dedicated to the issue in 2006. In one case, methane was detected in water sampled over 15 square miles. In another, a methane leak led to an explosion that killed a couple and their 17-month-old grandson. Methane is the largest component of natural gas. Since it evaporates out of drinking water, it is not considered toxic, but in the air it can lead to explosions. When methane is found in water supplies, it can also signal that deeply drilled gas wells are linked with drinking water systems. Gas companies are required to use certain specified types of concrete to encase their well pipes, however, most states do not require testing to confirm that the concreted used is strong enough for the job. CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL STORY