An explosion and fire at a Marcellus shale hydraulic fracturing site in southwestern Pennsylvania injured three men last night. According to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the fire at the Chesapeake Appalachia LLC natural gas well site burned for almost four hours before being extinguished.
The fire broke out about 6:15 p.m. at Chesapeake Appalachia’s Joseph Powers pad site in Independence Township, Washington County. It started in several of five mobile storage tanks that hold fracking fluid. Workers were transferring the fracking fluid to the tanks at the time of the explosion. Chesapeake Appalachia has characterized the incident as a “flash fire.”
More than 15 fifteen fire companies responded to the scene, while 20 acres of land were cleared to make sure the area was safe. Chesapeake Appalachia maintained that the incident did not pose a threat to nearby communities. All of the natural gas wells at the site were shut down, and the fracking phase of the operation had recently concluded there.
Several people living near the blast told WTAE TV that they felt the impact of the explosion, which caused nearby homes to shake.
“It sounded like a bomb went off,” said Bob Fullen said. “We looked out the window and (saw) big flames up over the hill from where the gas well was.”
According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, one injured worker was flown to Allegheny General Hospital, and another to UPMC Mercy, both in Pittsburgh. The third injured worker was taken to a hospital by ambulance. Their conditions are not known at this time.
It is not yet known what caused the explosion. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is investigating the incident.
Pennsylvania, with its natural gas rich Marcellus shale, has become ground zero in the debate surrounding hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Fracking is a drilling technique that involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface. Environmentalists are concerned that the chemicals used in that fracking fluid could contaminate water supplies near drilling sites, and already, such drilling is suspected in several instances of Pennsylvania water contamination.
Thanks to a move by Congress in 2005, fracking is exempt from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.