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An Explosion, a Fire, and an Uncontrollable Gas Leak

Update 2/19/18: The well control crew has been able to clear a safe path to the well pad, and has been clearing heavy debris caused by the explosion since Sunday, according to XTO Energy spokesperson Karen Matusic. They are establishing a safe work space from which they will attempt to regain control of the leaking well head.

Concerned Belmont County residents sent the following photos to the Allegheny Front on Saturday.

The XTO Energy well pad continues to spew natural gas near Powhatan Point, Ohio. Photos: Rich Sidwell.

Natural gas and brine water continue to pour from a well pad owned by Exxon’s XTO Energy in eastern Ohio, near Powhatan Point, after an explosion and fire at the site on Thursday morning. No one was injured. Workers lost control of the well, according to XTO spokesperson Karen Matusic.

Nearby residents reported hearing the explosion, and later the low rumbling sounds of the fire. About 100 people were told to evacuate their homes.

Rain has made it difficult for drones to tell what’s happening onsite, Matusic said, but they believe the fire is out. “There’s a combination of gas and brine, which is salty water, coming out of the well right now,” she said. “We’re working with emergency responders and state regulators to contain as much as possible before we can go in there and shut the well in.”

XTO plans to outfit a drone with an infrared camera today, Matusic said, to detect when methane leaks subside enough for recovery efforts. They have hired an outside company that specializes in plugging these types of leaks, “We have a crew of men from Oklahoma and Texas that are experts on stopping well flows when we have a situation like this. They’re just waiting to go in until it’s safe for them to go in,” she said.

Air and Water Pollution

In addition to air monitors, state and federal regulators are testing and analyzing water samples from nearby Cat Run and Captina Creek, for pollution from the salty brine pouring from the well pad, according Steve Irwin, spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Captina Creek is home to the Eastern Hellbender salamander, an endangered species in Ohio. “At this time, ODNR wildlife officers have not found any aquatic life that appear to be effected, but will continue to survey the area,” Irwin wrote in an email to the Allegheny Front.

This incident comes just a couple weeks after a pipeline explosion and fire about 40 miles east, just north of Summerfield, in Noble County, Ohio. In that case, the 24 inch lateral was owned by Tallgrass Energy. No one was injured.