Investigation Continues Into Fatal Explosion at WV Fracking Site
By Laura Beans
In the early morning hours of July 7, an explosion at a natural gas drill site in Doddridge County, WV, launched federal and state investigations into what ignited the fire and caused the subsequent explosion.
Seven people were injured, and since two men have died due to injuries sustained during the explosion, according to the Associated Press. Jason Mearns, 37, of Beverly, WV, died Sunday at West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh. Tommy Paxton, 45, of Walton, WV, died at West Penn Hospital on July 24.
The company that operates the drill site, Antero Resources, claims in its report issued by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), that the cause of the blast was a buildup of gas in tanks used to store flow back water from the process of preparing the well for natural gas production.
The flow back process occurs during high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing—fracking—in which millions of gallons of water and chemicals are pumped deep underground to release natural gas from shale rock.
According to the West Virginia Gazette, Antero said the accident was due to "the presence of an accumulation of gas from storage tanks on location" and "weather conditions exacerbating the accumulation potential of said gas." The company also blamed "a concentration of heavier than methane hydrocarbons in the gas mixture" and "an apparent ignition source near" a C&R Drilling skid pump. Previously, Antero had blamed the explosion on a crew that was inserting a production tube into the metal casing around the drilled hole.
Despite Antero Resources vowing to more closely review the layout of equipment on drilling sites, consider taller storage tanks for flow back water and latch those tanks to ensure explosive gases are contained, the DEP is calling for a more complete review of the investigation.
James Martin, chief of the DEP's Office of Oil and Gas, issued a follow-up order that demands Antero provide "all information" used by the company in the initial report on the explosion, citing insufficient information.
Antero claims no pollutants were released or associated with the incident, writes the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but in its newest order, the DEP asked "for a rationale expressing how it was deemed that no pollutants were released in the incident."
"They don't have a lot of information backing up what they say in this report," said Kathy Cosco, a spokeswoman for the DEP 's Office of Oil and Gas. "This is a report that could have been submitted to us long before the deadline."
Antero Resources has had a host of infractions prior to the July 7 explosion. In the Gazette-Mail, David Gutman explained that the DEP had cited Antero for 17 violations of state code in the past three years. The violations have been primarily environmental, including failures to prevent waste runoff and to report discharges, and for contaminating waterways.
One violation, dated January 4, warned, "Imminent danger water supplys [sic] threatened by allowing pollutants to escape and flow into the waters of the state."
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