The Department of Environmental Protection on Monday ordered EOG Resources to suspend its natural gas well drilling activities in Pennsylvania after a June 3 blowout at one of the company's Clearfield County wells sent natural gas and at least 35,000 gallons of drilling wastewater into the sky and over the ground for 16 hours.
DEP Secretary John Hanger said that while the order bans all drilling and hydrofracturing, or fracking, operations for specified periods of time, the suspension will remain in effect until DEP has completed a comprehensive investigation into the leak and the company has implemented any needed changes.
"DEP staff, along with an independent expert, will conduct a detailed investigation of not just the incident that occurred last week in Clearfield County, but of EOG Resources' drilling operations, as a whole, here in Pennsylvania," said Hanger. "The Clearfield County incident presented a serious threat to life and property. We are working with the company to review its Pennsylvania drilling operations fully from beginning to end to ensure an incident of this nature does not happen again."
The order prohibits EOG Resources from drilling activities up to seven days; from engaging in fracking operations up to 14 days; and from completing or initiating post-fracking operations for 30 days in any wells throughout the state. These actions and operations cannot resume until the department agrees that the investigation has been fully completed.
The results of the investigation will also help determine whether DEP should take additional enforcement action against the company, such as fines or penalties.
Hanger added that EOG Resources has been fully cooperative and in agreement with the department's ongoing investigation and order.
The leak began at approximately 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 3, when the well's operators lost control of it while preparing to extract gas after fracking the shale. As a result, natural gas and flowback frack fluid was released uncontrollably onto the ground and 75 feet into the air. The well was capped at around noon on June 4.
The EOG well pad is located in a rural area near the Penfield/Route 153 exit of Interstate 80 in northwestern Clearfield County, near Moshannon State Forest.
The department's Emergency Response and Oil and Gas programs responded to the incident, along with the Pennsylvania State Police, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, and local fire and police departments.
PEMA elevated its activation level to coordinate resources among multiple state agencies and worked with PennDOT and the Federal Aviation Administration to institute a temporary airspace restriction above the well. The restriction was lifted at approximately 1:45 p.m. on June 4.
"Fortunately, the well did not ignite and explode, and there were no injuries to the well crew or emergency responders," said Hanger. "Our preliminary assessment is that the environmental damage was modest as the frack fluid was contained and did not appear to reach any streams, but DEP is continuing its monitoring efforts because sometimes the impacts of a spill like this are delayed. We have noted that a spring in the area has shown a spike in conductivity and that discharge is being collected by EOG for proper disposal."
The secretary noted that the company expects to have a more accurate estimate of the amount of fracking water that was leaked after it finishes draining the pits and waterboxes it deployed to collect the fluids. As of June 7, initial estimates totaled 35,000 gallons, although more was certainly released and the company believes this accounts for a majority of the leaked water.
DEP's preliminary investigation has determined that a blowout preventer on the well failed, but the agency does not yet know if that failure was the main cause of the incident. The blowout preventer has been secured and will be one piece of the investigation.
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