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February 5, 2011

A mechanical failure during hydraulic fracturing operations on a natural gas well in Pennsylvania’s Tioga County caused a blow out of the well and a spill of about 21,000 gallons of fracking fluid.

Hydraulic fracturing is a process used to increase the output of oil and gas wells by forcing thousands of gallons of a toxic cocktail, including water, chemicals and sand, into rock formations under extreme pressure, opening fissures in rock and releasing trapped gas and oil.

Fracking fluid that returns to the surface after the hydraulic fracturing process, called produced water, also contains heavy metals, sulfates, chlorides and other toxins from exposure to rock deep in the earth.

The incident occurred at the Talisman Energy USA well pad DCNR #8 – Well #5, in the Tioga State Forest in Ward Township. Just after 12:00 noon on January 17, a valve on the well failed during the fracking process. The drilling crew lost control of the well as pressurized fracking fluid and sand spewed into the air and spilled onto the drilling pad. Crews eventually shut the well down at 3:35 pm.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) launched an investigation of the incident.

“This was a serious incident that could have caused significant environmental harm had it not been brought under control,” said DEP North-central Regional Director Nels Taber.

Talisman halted all hydraulic fracturing operations in North America for eight days while the company and DEP investigated the incident.

“Our preliminary findings indicate the cause of the incident was due to a mechanical issue on the well site,” Talisman Energy USA said in a release. “As a result, we have modified our component design to prevent this from reoccurring.”

While the spill appears to be contained on the well pad, soil sampling continues.

“The safety of our employees, community residents and stakeholders is our first priority,” said Talisman Energy. “This is a regrettable incident and we will apply the learnings from it to the continuous improvement of our well site operations.”

In early January, the DEP fined Talisman for spilling diesel fuel at another natural gas well that contaminated soil and water.

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