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Fracking Blowout at PA Gas Well Stopped, Assessment of Environmental Damage Begins

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April 23, 2011

After a blowout at a Bradford County, PA natural gas well caused the spilling of produced water out of the well for two days, workers have plugged the well and efforts are underway to determine the environmental impact.

The blowout occurred at 11:45pm on Tuesday, April 19 at the Atgas 2H well owned by Chesapeake Energy in Leroy Township after the company performed hydraulic fracturing operations on the well.

Hydraulic fracturing is a process in which the drilling crew injects fracking fluid, which is a cocktail of water, chemicals and sand, into the well at high pressure into a well to create fissures in rock for increasing output of a gas or oil well. 25% to 50% of this fluid comes back to the surface, called produced water. While called “water,” this is actually a hazardous waste containing not only chemicals from the original fracking fluid, but also heavy metals, radioactive elements such as radium and known carcinogens including benzene and other toxins.

“The cause of the equipment failure is undetermined at this time, and as a precaution Chesapeake has voluntarily shut down all completion activity in the Marcellus Shale in its Eastern Division,” Chesapeake Energy said on the company’s Facebook page. “A full investigation will be conducted to determine the root cause of the failure, evaluate best management practices and make any and all necessary corrections before returning to normal operations.”

According to the Associated Press, thousands of gallons of produced water flowed back out of the well, crossing farm fields and entering a stream. Officials from the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and other agencies responded to the incident and took environmental samples for testing.

The blowout prompted the evacuation of seven nearby households as a safety precaution on Wednesday.

The Daily Review reports that DEP issued violations of the Clean Streams Law, the Solid Waste Management Act and the Oil and Gas Act to Chesapeake Energy and that DEP asked for a long list of information, including ingredients of the fracking fluid and an explanation why it took Chesapeake nearly twelve hours to address the uncontrolled release of fluids off the well pad.

Chesapeake stopped the leak on Thursday by plugging the well with rubber material such as ground up tires and plastic, regaining control of the well.

Chesapeake Energy announced on April 11, 2011 that the company would disclose the ingredients of its fracking fluid for each individual well site upon completion of each well. While Chesapeake has not added the Atgas 2H fracking fluid yet, the company did disclose the ingredients of the fluid used in the March 27, 2011 fracking of a nearby well in Bradford County named the Henry 2H. On that well Chesapeake used 8,297,016 gallons of fracking fluid containing Hydrogen Chloride, also known as hydrochloric acid, Formamide, Methanol, Propargyl Alcohol (2-Propynol), Pine Oil, Glutaraldehyde, Didecyl Dimethyl Ammonium Chloride, Ethanol and others.

A list of harmful chemicals no one would want to contaminate their water wells or water supplies through groundwater contamination or underground seepage.

The New York Times recently found secret documents and studies from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as some from drilling industry participants, showing that hydraulic fracturing gas and oil wells is even more dangerous than previously thought because produced water from gas drilling operations contains high levels of radioactive contaminants, which are released into waterways supplying drinking water via disposal at wastewater treatment plants that are not equipped to remove these toxins.

Just this week, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection ordered Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling operations to stop disposing of produced water at sewage treatment plants in the state due to elevated levels of bromide in rivers. Sewage treatment facilities discharge the bromide laced water into rivers where community drinking water intake plants downstream from these sewage facilities pull the water back in and treat it with chlorine for disinfection, which turns the bromine into potentially harmful compounds called Total Trihalomethanes.