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Explosion Rocks Natural Gas Drilling Well in Marcellus Shale, Workers Seriously Injured

A day after an explosion in the rural community of New Milton, West Virginia residents are still awaiting answers about the cause and the damage.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Tara Lohan/Meghan Nesbit

 
 
 
 

Editor’s Note: Tara Lohan is traveling across North America documenting communities impacted by energy development for a new AlterNet project, Hitting Home. Follow the trip on Facebook or follow Tara onTwitter.

An explosion at a nearby gas drilling well pad jostled John Pitcock awake around 4 a.m. on Sunday morning. Pitcock and his wife Diane moved with their sons from the Baltimore, Maryland area to rural New Milton, West Virginia in Doddridge County nearly a decade ago to enjoy a quiet country life. But when drilling companies began tapping the underlying Marcellus Shale in the area for natural gas reserves using high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing (or fracking), their peaceful country life disappeared. 

The Pitcocks have been plagued by noise, lights, dust, emissions and truck traffic after a neighbor leased his land to a drilling company, which has erected several well pads on the land adjacent to their property. Over the last year trees have been clear cut, miles roads built through their rural neighborhood, and drilling begun. On Friday, July 5 I visited their home and witnessed gas being flared from a well through the night — the light illuminated their front yard from a ridge top about 2,000 feet away. 

John Pitcock reported that the well continued to flare through the next day and night and another well beside it was loudly venting gas on and off. What became a nuisance turned to a real fright during the early morning hours of Sunday as John describes:

The Pitcocks were initially told (after driving off their property to find employees working nearby and emergency response officials) that they needed to evacuate, but were later told it was optional and they could remain.  

Since then conflicting reports have emerged about the number of workers injured and the severity of their injuries at the well pad, which is officially called the Hinterer 2H well on the Ruddy Alt pad and is operated by Antero Resources. The West Virginia Gazette-Mail reported at least seven injured and at four or five workers were flown to West Penn Burn Center in Pittsburgh.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and the Doddridge County director of emergency services did not return phone calls as of publication. While the cause of the fire hasn’t been determined, writing for the Gazette-Mail, David Gutman explained that this is not the first safety issue that Antero has had recently:

Last August a spark at an Antero-owned well in Harrison County ignited methane gas several hundred feet underground, causing a fireball and a fire that burned for about an hour. Three workers were injured in that fire.

DEP cited Antero for failure to maintain well control for that incident.

DEP has cited Antero for 17 violations of state code in the past three years. Those have been primarily environmental violations -- for things like failing to prevent waste runoff, failure to report discharges and contaminating waterways.

One violation, from January 4, 2013, warned, "Imminent danger water supplys [sic] threatened by allowing pollutants to escape and flow into the waters of the state."

In June of last year Antero was drilling using water in Harrison County when they accidentally repressurized some old water wells, causing several geysers, one about 10 feet high, that flooded one nearby home and several garages.

In March 2011, state regulators shut down an Antero gas well in Harrison County after mud contaminated with drilling chemicals spilled into a nearby stream.

John Pitcock says that he doesn’t think companies should be drilling in this manner in proximity to people’s homes.

Tara Lohan is a freelance writer and former senior editor at AlterNet. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis, including Water Matters: Why We Need to Act Now to Save Our Most Critical Resource. Follow her on Twitter @TaraLohan or visit her website, taralohan.com.

 
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