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June 6, 2010

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) vows it will thoroughly investigate a blowout at a Marcellus shale natural gas well that the agency says could have been “catastrophic.”

At about 8 p.m. Thursday June 3, operators of a EOG Resources gas well in Lawrence Township of Clearfield County, PA “lost control” of the well when it ruptured after hydraulic fracturing the shale, shooting fracking fluid and natural gas 75 feet into the air.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking is a drilling process, used by companies to extract natural gas from the earth in which a mixture of water, sand and chemicals is pumped deep underground to break apart the rock formation and release the gas.

The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency notified DEP at about 1:30 a.m. Friday morning, who then dispatched its Emergency Response and Oil and Gas program staff to the site.

“When we arrived on scene, natural gas and frack fluid was flowing off the well pad and heading toward tributaries to Little Laurel Run and gas was shooting into the sky, creating a significant fire hazard. That’s why emergency responders acted quickly to cut off electric service to the area,” said DEP Secretary John Hanger. “Right now, we’re focused on limiting any further environmental damage, but once that work is complete, we plan to aggressively look at this situation and see where things went wrong and what enforcement action is necessary. If mistakes were made, we will be certain to take steps to prevent similar errors from happening again.”

Workers were unable to cap the well for nearly 16 hours, eventually capping it around noon on June 4.

David Rensink, the incoming president of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, told the Associated Press that gas well blowouts are very rare and can be very dangerous to control, since a spark can set off an explosion.

He told the news source that typically, a blowout preventer — a series of valves that sit atop a well — allows workers to control the pressure.

Just such a blowout preventer failed to shut down the flow of oil in the Deepwater Horizon disaster last month that has become the largest oil spill in history.

“The event at the well site could have been a catastrophic incident that endangered life and property,” said Hanger. “This was not a minor accident, but a serious incident that will be fully investigated by this agency with the appropriate and necessary actions taken quickly.

EOG Resources, Inc. (EOG), formerly Enron Oil & Gas Company, operates approximately 265 active wells in Pennsylvania, 117 of which are in the Marcellus Shale formation.

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