Gas, mud leak from well

A gas leak that occurred Sunday in Morgan County is still receiving attention from the U.S. and Ohio Environmental Protection Agencies and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).

The PDC Energy-owned Palmer Well Pad, at 1244 Center Bend Road near Beverly, experienced what ODNR spokesman Mark Bruce called a “loss of control.”

In a statement, PDC said that it immediately notified the local Morgan County Sheriff’s Office and fire departments as well as other regulatory agencies, adding that there were no injuries and no fire as a result.

Morgan County Sheriff Tom Jenkins said it appears the well casing might be cracked, but Bruce said determinations are still being made.

When the well expelled a mixture of natural gas and drilling mud, a containment issue happened, said Bruce.

“Drilling mud escaped the well bore,” he said. “Some did make it into a nearby stream…Drilling mud, it’s not brine, it’s not hydraulic fracturing fluid. It’s a lubricant used as the bit is actually drilling into the earth. But it is to be contained.”

Heather Lauer, spokeswoman for the Ohio EPA, said drilling mud can be harmful for marine life.

“The mud is mostly oil,” she said. “When it gets into a creek, it can smother aquatic life. It’s something that should not be there.”

She said an estimated 40 barrels leaked from the Colorado-based company’s well.

“It’s an estimated 40 barrels that got into the tributary,” Lauer said. “A barrel is not the same as a drum; there’s 42 gallons per barrel as opposed to 55 gallons per drum…Most of it was contained on-site. It’s contained behind an earthen dam and booms and it will be vacuumed out.”

The emergency dam stopped the drilling mud from reaching Cow Run.

Lauer said the EPA will stay on-site to make sure everything’s taken care of the way it’s supposed to.

Because of proximity to the spill, Jenkins said a few families voluntarily evacuated their residences.

“There is no evacuation (for the public),” he said. “They have a voluntary evacuation of a couple houses that are very close (to the well site)…There is no danger to the public…It’s all being monitored by the Ohio EPA and federal EPA.”

The operation is a horizontal well operation, and Bruce said the company is currently still in the process of drilling the well.

Jenkins emphasized that the well site is not a fracking site.

“There is no fracking issue with this well,” he said. “This well is not to that point.”

Malta & McConnelsville and Center Township fire departments responded to the incident Sunday. Jenkins said on Wednesday he, the fire departments and the Morgan County EMA were on scene for two hours.

“It was very informative to us; in the event someone gets hurt down there, we had to know what to do,” he said.

Jenkins said PDC has been very cooperative with efforts at the well site.

“These folks assured me there is absolutely no danger down there,” he said. “They’ve been in contact every day since Sunday…Everything is in good shape for us.”

Jenkins said if the public has questions, he is referring them to the Ohio EPA. The Ohio EPA Public Interest Center can be reached at 614-644-2160.

In its statement, PDC said it is continuing to work closely with all regulatory authorities in order to recover fluids and remediate any ground that was impacted by the leak. PDC said the leak has been stopped, and repairs and remediation are ongoing.

Moving forward, Bruce said the next few days will determine what the future of the well will be.

“The company is actively investigating several thousand feet below (the surface) what did happen,” Bruce said. “Our role now as regulators, we’ll work to determine what in fact did happen and will have the final say if the company can continue to drill this well, or under Ohio law we order a well plug.”