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Antero plan aims to prevent gas well explosions

Aug. 01, 2013 @ 05:35 PM

MORGANTOWN — To prevent another fatal blast in West Virginia, Antero Resources says it will more closely review the layout of equipment on drilling sites, consider taller storage tanks for flowback water and latch those tanks to ensure potentially explosive gases are contained.

But the state Department of Environmental Protection deemed the company’s two-page letter “incomplete” on Thursday and said the Doddridge County site will remain shut down “until Antero provides a response that satisfies the requirements outlined in the original order.”

Colorado-based Antero tells the state Office of Oil and Gas that it will also require workers to wear portable gas monitors on drilling sites, and it will consider installing fixed monitors at each of those locations, depending on risk assessments.

The letter released by the DEP says the company is also looking at different configurations of storage tanks and venting systems, including flares to burn off accumulated gases. Only emergency relief lines will vent into the atmosphere, Antero says.

Five Antero subcontractors were burned and two later died after a July 7 explosion of methane gas in a tank that holds used fluids that flow back from a well at an Antero drilling site near New Milton in Doddridge County.

Jason Mearns, 37, of Beverly, died Sunday at West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh. Tommy Paxton, 45, of Walton, died at West Penn Hospital on July 24.  

Antero Vice President Al Schopp has said the crew was inserting a narrow production tube into the metal casing around the drilled hole when methane ignited.   

The letter says the blast was the result of an accumulation of gases in the storage tanks, weather conditions that encouraged that accumulation, a concentration of hydrocarbons heavier than methane and “an apparent ignition source” near a skid pump.

Antero does not, however, identify that possible ignition source or explain precisely what happened.

The DEP said the blast ruptured two tanks containing flowback water that Antero had been reusing, but the secondary containment system captured the fluid as designed and none left the site.

The site has been shut down while state regulators awaited the report from Antero.

Separate examinations by state, federal, company and independent investigators are continuing to determine exactly what caused methane to ignite as work was wrapping up on the Hinterer 1H well.  

The explosion is the latest of several high-profile incidents for Antero in West Virginia.

Last August, three workers at the company’s Cottrill No. 3 well in Harrison County were injured when methane from several hundred feet below ground ignited and triggered a fire on the drilling rig floor.

The DEP cited Antero for failure to maintain well control at the pad near Sycamore.  

Two months before that, a drilling operation in the Sardis area of Harrison county hit an aquifer and inadvertently re-pressurized a handful of old water wells. That created a backyard geyser at least 10 feet high and several smaller gushers, but no one was injured.  

Workers had been drilling an initial well hole with just fresh water and air when the bit became stuck. Rather than turn the air flow off, the crew left it on as they tried to withdraw the drill. That effectively charged up the aquifer, and the trapped air sought an escape.

The crew was still thousands of feet away from oil and gas deposits.