Pennsylvania Fracking Blowout under Investigation

A fracking blowout last week in Pennsylvania’s Tioga County resulted in an uncontrolled discharge of fracking fluids onto state lands. The natural gas well blowout caused Calgary, Canada-based Talisman Energy to suspend its North American hydraulic fracturing operations for a time.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced it was investigating the Tioga County well blowout yesterday. The incident occurred on January 17 at a Talisman Energy natural gas well located on state forest land in Ward Township. Media reports indicate a needle valve on a casing wing valve failed, which resulted in loss of well control.

The well was shut later that day. The DEP wasn’t notified of the blowout until 1:30 p.m., though it occurred around noon.

During the well control incident, which began during hydraulic fracturing of the well, fracking fluids and sand discharged from the well into the air. It does not appear that any significant amount of natural gas was released and there was no fire or explosion, the DEP said.

Inspections conducted last week by DEP staff verified that the fluids had been contained to the lined well pad. The fluids were cleaned up by a contractor and further sampling will be conducted to determine if any contaminated soil needs to be removed, according to the DEP statement. Oil and Gas Program staff also collected soil samples last week from beneath the well pad liner. Those results have not yet been received.

The DEP sent a notice of violation letter on January 24 which requires Talisman to submit a sampling plan for the site, information on any fluids released, an analysis of the main cause of the incident, and changes to be implemented in all of its Marcellus operations as a result of the incident. The company has five days to respond to the letter.

According to report from PressConnects.com, the DEP’s investigation has already identified three violations. They are:

• The potential pollution of fresh water streams near the well site, which carries a civil penalty of up to $10,000 for each day the violation continues.

• Releasing fracking fluids onto the ground, a violation of Pennsylvania’s Solid Waste Management Act that carries a civil penalty of $25,000 per day.

• Failing to contain hydraulic fracturing fluids, a violation of DEP’s Oil and Gas Act that is punishable by a civil penalty of up to $25,000 and $1,000 for each day of continued violation.

In a statement, Talisman said it has modified the design of the failed component to prevent reoccurrences at other Marcellus shale well sites.

According to the PressConnects.com report, Talisman is among the most active frackers in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale, and its producing wells rose from 53 wells in 2009 to 150 wells at the end of last year. However, it is also one of the state’s most often cited for violations. Last year, the DEP conducted 187 inspections of Talisman’s Marcellus Shale well sites, finding 151 violations on 91 of those inspections.

Talisman has since resumed hydraulic fracturing operations throughout North America. Its operations in Pennsylvania were the last to restart.

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