Many Shale Drilling Accidents Involve Death and Serious Injuries

by Duane Nichols on August 18, 2012

Antero Drilling Operation

From Press Reports

In Northcentral WEST VIRGINIA, a spark from a shale drilling operation ignited methane gas several hundred feet under- ground early Friday, sending up a fireball and triggering a blaze that burned for about an hour on the floor of the rig.

Three workers were injured, two seriously enough to be airlifted to a hospital after the fire at the Antero Resources site near Sycamore in Harrison County. The fire was quickly extinguished, and the well pad was in a rural area, so it posed no danger to the public.

Two victims were flown to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, said Sgt. Heather Mick of the Harrison County 911 Center. A third was transported by ambulance to the hospital in Clarksburg.

Their conditions weren’t immediately available, but state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Tom Aluise said the one had returned to the job site by 9 a.m.

Workers were in the early stages of drilling a Marcellus shale gas well, Aluise said. The drill was about 400 feet deep when they began to withdraw it, creating a spark that ignited the methane. That created more of a fireball than an explosion, he said.

The accident happened at the Cottrill No. 3 well on Antero’s Southern pad, and Aluise said the crew doing the work was with Hall Drilling LLC of Ellenboro.

Aluise said Antero voluntarily shut down the operation, and a DEP investigation is under way. The rig was damaged badly enough that a new one may need to be brought in “if and when they resume drilling.” 

In June, another Antero drilling operation triggered several backyard geysers when workers struck an aquifer in the Sardis area and inadvertently re-pressurized a handful of old water wells. Emergency management officials and residents said some were 10- to 12-feet high.

There was no interior damage in the affected homes. The residents’ wells had long been disconnected from indoor plumbing because their homes are on a public water supply.

On July 31, the DEP ordered Antero to provide a detailed incident report, including a chart outlining the pressures involved, a list of the water wells that were affected and the current status of those wells. The DEP also wants pre- and post-water analyses for each of those wells, along with a map showing their locations in relation to the well pad.

In COLORADO this week, one worker was killed and three others were injured following an accident at a Colorado gas well operated by Encana Corp. The four men were bringing the well into production when the “high-pressure gas release” took place, according to Encana spokesman Doug Hock.

There was no explosion or fire, and both internal and external investigations have been launched, Hock said. He said this is the first fatality at an Encana operation. We had a very good record and again that’s why we want to investigate thoroughly and really understand what happened,” he said.

The well, north of Denver, is located in the Niobrara Shale formation. The man who died and two of the men who were injured were contractors with Castle Rock, Colorado based BGH Gas Test Operating Inc. The third injured man was a lease operator for Encana.

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