WASHINGTON TWP. — A natural gas well that malfunctioned will remain capped as regulators investigate what caused thousands of gallons of fracking fluid to flow from the drilling site in rural Wyoming County on Wednesday night into Thursday afternoon.
State Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Colleen Connolly said the malfunction occurred at about 6 p.m. Wednesday and worsened overnight. At one point, she said, about 800 gallons of the chemically treated wastewater was escaping per minute. The site is off Keiserville Road, about three miles northwest of Tunkhannock.
Four families in the vicinity of the pad on property owned by the Yarasavage family were asked to evacuate; three did. The property owner remained, Connolly said.
The other families were permitted to return Thursday night after air-quality samples came back clean and frack fluid tests registered no radiation.
Even so, Houston-based Carrizo Oil and Gas, which operates locally out of a Montrose office and owns the well, is providing bottled water to residents within 1,500 feet of the well and will sample water supplies for those residents.
Tanker trucks spent most of the night and day collecting the fluid and hauling it off site. Connolly said about 226,000 gallons have been placed into tanker trucks or captured in a holding gully.
A statement issued on Carrizo’s website regarding the incident noted: “An investigation into the cause of the incident will be conducted. All relevant emergency and regulatory agencies are being notified that the well has been brought under control. No injuries were reported as a result of the incident. The safety of our employees, community residents and stakeholders remain our first priority.”
Richard Hunter, the company’s vice president of investor relations, said Carrizo had no additional comment.
Connolly said a crane was brought in to help free the drill from the ground. There was concern, she said, that when that occurred, some blow back could occur and stored up natural gas, which is combustible, could be released. But the crews were able to release the gas slowly enough to prevent any flair off.
While DEP investigates the incident, Connolly said the well will remain capped, preventing any drilling.
The well was capped the same day U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright introduced his first piece of legislation as a congressman. Coincidentally, his bill has to do with the natural gas industry.
Titled the Focused Reduction of Effluence and Stormwater runoff through Hydrofracking Environmental Regulation (FRESHER) Act, the bill seeks to eliminate the oil and gas permit exemption in the Clean Water Act and makes oil and gas exploration companies follow the same rules that apply to all other industries. It also requires the secretary of the interior to conduct a basic study of the oil and gas stormwater runoff issue.
“It’s a proud moment for me, introducing as my first bill, this measure to protect the water supply for families in Northeastern Pennsylvania, and every place in America where the water could be endangered by oil and gas drilling,” said Cartwright, D-Moosic.
The Clean Water Act was enacted in 1972 as a means of combating the discharge of pollutants into waterways for all industries. The law was amended in 1987 to exempt oil and gas companies. These exemptions were further expanded in 2005 to cover the even more environmentally risky activity of construction, again only for oil and gas companies.
“As hydraulic fracturing and the runoff that comes with it continues to increase, the need to make sure these companies are maintaining the cleanliness of our water becomes greater,” Cartwright said. “Fracking was not a concern on anyone’s radar when the Clean Water Act was originally debated, but the practice is expanding today. It’s time to update this important public health and environmental stewardship law.”
Connolly said it’s unclear whether much of a difference would have been made at the Washington Township well-pad if that bill were enacted into law.
“I don’t know if I could answer that. It’s too speculative at this point,” Connolly said.