From Bill Hughes
Letter to Kathy Cosco, WVDEP Communications Director: Please look at the attached picture taken of the McDowell B well fire. You were quoted in at lease one of the local newspapers today as saying that “officials with both the company and the DEP said air quality in the area is of no concern.”
Of course we all know that it is not uncommon for a news reporter to sometimes be less than perfectly accurate in getting the quotes completely correct, especially given their “go to print” deadlines. However I would personally be inclined to conclude, based on what I saw of the fire and the black smoke that is clearly visible in this photo and the lazy yellow/orange flame of a rich, incomplete burn, that the air above and downwind of the well site fire might be of concern to me. The high volume rush of combustion air being drawn into the rising flame and hot air column would naturally pull in fresh air at ground level. I would expect that the air would be acceptable quality at ground level.
Would you be able to find out for me exactly how and where and with what type of instruments the air was sampled and for how long? At the very least I would think that at least one large, tethered helium balloon about 150-200 feet high and downwind supporting a battery powered monitor set to draw in a sample at fixed intervals over a week or so would give us the type of data needed to come to a valid conclusion to substantiate the “no concern” statement.
It seems that two monitors similar to what is described above would be ideal. One could be at the Pleasants compressor station which is at 228 degrees (SW) about 0.45 miles away from the fire site and one at the next farm hay knob which is about 0.3 miles at 44 degrees (NE) would give good reference comparison assuming prevailing winds of SW to NE. For wind data I think meteorological records of wind directions are kept or are readily available from the three nearby airports PKB, HLG, MGW, located respectively: 49 miles to SW, 30 miles North and 41 miles to East.
Please let me know what you find out about this. I think we would all benefit from real time, accurately measured and analyzed, air quality data from well fires at least for future reference since it might be too late for this fire. Maybe we can be ready for the next well fire.