2010-07-01 / Local & State

Pa. Allows Gas Well Shale Breaking To Resume

By Marc Levy ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – A natural gas drilling company whose work in Pennsylvania was shut down by regulators after a blowout at one of its wells three weeks ago learned Friday that it can resume hydraulic fracturing at its other wells in the state.

Department of Environmental Protection spokes- man Neil Weaver said the state agency was satisfied by its review of the well sites where Houston-based EOG Resources Inc. is drilling and wants to break up mile-deep shale using the hydraulic fracturing process, also known as fracking.

“We looked at their operations, we reviewed their plans and operations in general in regard to the fracking and didn’t find any issues or violations,’’ Weaver said.

Hydraulic fracturing involves pumping millions of gallons of water, chemicals and sand into a well at high pressures to create cracks in the thick shale, freeing trapped gas and allowing it to flow to the surface.

EOG is one of dozens of companies from around the world flocking to Pennsylvania in pursuit of the rich Marcellus Shale gas reserve, which lies beneath much of Pennsylvania.

The blowout came at a sensitive point when the rapidly expanding industry is fighting an effort by Gov. Ed Rendell to impose tough new wastewater rules on it and tax the gas that companies extract from the ground.

The site of the blowout, on the property of a Clearfield County hunting club, remains idled.

And while EOG can resume the hydraulic fracturing that frees the gas from the thick shale, it does not yet have approval to perform the finishing work that allows the gas to be extracted from the wells. It was allowed two weeks ago to restart the first stages of well drilling.

The blowout occurred during the finishing work when rig workers were removing plugs from the well. Explosive gas and toxic wastewater unexpectedly blasted out, and remained out of control for 16 hours before specialists capped the well. No one was injured and the gas did not ignite.

A series of valves – called a blowout preventer – atop the well that allows crews to control pressure in the well failed, and a consultant hired by the DEP is investigating why.

The DEP is hoping to have a report from the consultant within the next two weeks, Weaver said.

An EOG spokeswoman, Elizabeth Ivers, said the company has fewer than 25 wells that have been drilled and are waiting to be completed in Pennsylvania. She said the company was cooperating with the state agency and looked forward to resuming all of its operations in the state.

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