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Chesapeake DEP working to resolve explosion issue

April 16, 2011
By CASEY JUNKINS - Special to the Brooke Scene , The Herald-Star

AVELLA, Pa. - Officials with Chesapeake Energy are working with state and federal regulators to prevent blasts like the one that rocked Avella, Pa., in February.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is ordering Chesapeake to properly store and manage natural gas condensate, a liquid byproduct.

Agency spokeswoman Katy Gresh said investigators found numerous ignition points at the well, but may never determine exactly what caused the condensate to catch fire.

Three workers suffered burn injuries in the Feb. 23 fire, which ignited as workers were burning off excess gas. Avella is roughly 12 miles east of Wellsburg, near which Chesapeake is currently preparing to drill for gas.

Jacque Bland, media relations specialist for Chesapeake, said her company continues to work with the Pennsylvania DEP and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to determine the best course of action.

She said Chesapeake will respond to the DEP's letter of requests.

"We are supportive of the way the department handled this unfortunate accident and will comply fully with the planning measures and best management practices requested in the letter," Bland said.

"Although the investigation is ongoing at many levels, consideration has been given to the points in the letter and will be included in future best management practices," she added.

Though the accident involved natural gas liquids, it is not the tri-state area's first gas-related accident. An AB Resources well about 6 miles south of Moundsville exploded in June, after workers penetrated a methane pocket in an abandoned coal mine.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection ultimately cited AB Resources for failing to set casing at the permitted depth for the site and for inaccurately reporting coal seam depth.

A Chesapeake gas well on Pleasants Ridge near Cameron ignited in September. For this incident, DEP officials cited Chesapeake for "failing to prevent the release of natural gas and the potential pollution of waters of the state."

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