Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Untrained Well Operators Faulted for June 3 PA Blowout

An independent investigation reveals that untrained personnel and the failure to use proper well control procedures were the principal causes of the June 3 natural gas well blowout in Clearfield County. The PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) released the report today.

According to DEP Secretary John Hanger, the blowout - which allowed natural gas and wastewater to escape from the well for 16 hours before being brought under control - happened when the well’s operator, EOG Resources, and its contractor, C.C. Forbes LLC, lost control of the well while performing post-fracturing well cleanout activities.

“The blowout in Clearfield County was caused by EOG Resources and its failure to have proper barriers in place. This incident was preventable and should never have occurred,” said Hanger. He then ordered EOG Resources to take nine corrective actions, and C.C. Forbes  to take six corrective actions, and fined both companies -  EOG will pay $353,400 and CC Forbes $46,600.

"Make no mistake, this could have been a catastrophic incident," Hanger said. “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.”

In light of the investigation’s findings, Hanger said his agency has written a letter to each company drilling into the Marcellus Shale to ensure they understand proper well construction and emergency notification procedures. The letter states that:
• A snubbing unit, which prevents pipes from ejecting uncontrollably from a well, may be used to clean out the composite frac plugs and sand during post-fracturing (post-frac) if coil tubing is not an option.
• A minimum of two pressure barriers should be in place during all post-frac 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-frac 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-frac cleanout operations.

Read entire DEP release here.

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