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Gas Rig Catches Fire On Pleasants Ridge

By Staff | Sep 21, 2010

The gas well fire on Pleasants Ridge creates a spectacular glow against the evening sky. The fire began early Sunday morning and crews are still working on the incident. (Photo provided)

Safety officials and gas rig drilling workers are continuing to monitor a natural gas rig which caught fire early Sunday on Pleasants Ridge in Marshall County and is expected to burn for at least two days.

It is the second such fire in in the county in little over four months.

Wetzel and Marshall County sheriffs’ departments received a call just before 7 a.m. Sunday after residents in the area heard a large explosion. Marshall County Chief Deputy Sheriff Kevin Cecil said the first blast did not ignite the fire, but only allowed for gas to begin escaping from the rig, which allowed workers in the area to get away safely. The fire sparked roughly 10 minutes after the original blast, Cecil said.

The sheriff’s department, as well as crews from St. Joseph, Cameron, Silver Hill, and Grandview fire departments, as well as Marshall, Wetzel, and Cameron emergency management teams, responded to the rig at Chesapeake Appalachia LLC’s Nomac 240 rig on the McDowell B well site. According to Tom Hart, director of the Marshall County EMS, those crews remained on scene until about midnight Monday, and will remain there as the fire continues to burn.

“It could burn anywhere from 24-48 hours,” he said, adding that though no rig workers were injured, a Grandview firefighter was taken to the hospital due to exhaustion. He is expected to make a full recovery.

Hart and well control specialists from Boots and Coots International Well Control Inc. began working on plans for dealing with the burning rig over the two-day time frame. One of the main concerns is the location of the site, which is surrounded by a heavily wooded area.

Hart said officials with the West Virginia Division of Forestry were called in to address concerns of wind blowing the intense flames into the trees surrounding the rig.

“We did a lot of pre-planning just in case the fire were to spread into the wooded area,” he said.

The other major concern is the output of the burning rig, which could cause problems with air quality. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection began monitoring air quality at the site Sunday, and will continue to do so as the rig burns.

Access to the site and surrounding areas will remain limited, as Pleasants Ridge in Marshall County is closed from the intersection of Fish Creek to Valley Run at Cameron and parts of Greenfield Ridge, Pleasants Ridge, and Macedonia Ridge in Wetzel County are blocked to traffic. Additionally, Hart said a request was put in to the state EMA and the Federal Aviation Administration asking to make the area over the site a no-fly zone, though an emergency landing zone has been established in the event an injury occurs.

Officials with Chesapeake Energy said the cause of the fire is unknown at this time, though after the flames are extinguished they plan to conduct a thorough investigation.

“The process to address these rare events may take 24-48 hours, and employee and contractor safety is the top priority,” said Stacey Brodak, director of corporate development for Chesapeake Energy in a statement released Sunday. “No fluid releases, spills, or leaks have occurred. There has been no need for evacuations and no imminent danger to the surrounding environment.”

Chesapeake currently has their own security staff patrolling the area and making sure it is secure, though Hart said local law enforcement will continue to check in with them. In addition to assisting with containing the rig fire, local fire and EMS teams have set up a home base near the site and gathered supplies and resources.

According to Brodak, the water tanks and pumps were placed on location Tuesday morning and equipment and workers are being kept cool with the water. “This allows for a closer look at the wellhead area in order to determine next steps,” she said. “The water is being pumped from nearby Chesapeake freshwater impoundments.”

Hart said dealing with a fire of this sort was covered during training local EMS responders received Saturday during a session dealing with gas well incidents. The training was inspired by the gas well explosion on Beam’s Lane in Marshall County on June 7, where a blast occurred after workers hit a “shallow pocket” of methane gas a little more than 1,000 feet below the ground. In addition to injuring several workers, this ignited a large fireball that burned for days. Seven workers were injured during the blast.

“The guy giving the training said this sort of thing only happens at one in 1,000 wells drilled,” Hart said. “We know that is not the case.”