Updated: EPA: 100 Million Cubic Feet Of Methane Leaked Per Day

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct a quote from XTO’s spokeswoman, Karen Matusik, and also for clarity.

POWHATAN POINT — It took 19 days to cap a leaking natural gas well in Belmont County — an issue of serious environmental concern for Harvard University research fellow Drew Michanowiz.

XTO Energy’s Schnegg Well experienced an issue on Feb. 15 that caused methane to begin leaking into the air. A preliminary report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates the well leaked about 100 million cubic feet per day during the 19 days.

“What I think is really unique is how long it lasted. They were not able to cap the well for almost three weeks,” said Michanowicz, a research fellow at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“We don’t usually see well blowouts last this long,” he added.

Michanowicz said he believes methane is 84 times more potent at trapping heat in the atmosphere when compared to carbon dioxide, or CO2.

Michanowicz compared the Belmont County blowout to two others: In December 2014, a well blowout near Sardis resulted in methane spout into the atmosphere for 10 straight days. One year later, in December 2015, another significant blowout took place in Aliso Canyon, Calif., near Los Angeles.

“The rate at Aliso Canyon was about 48 million cubic feet per day,” Michanowicz said. “If the numbers are right, this was about twice as big as that.”

XTO is a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil. The company has fracked at least 40 natural gas wells in Belmont County without any major problem until the Schnegg well.

“We’ve never had a blowout in Appalachia,” XTO spokeswoman Karen Matusic said, noting it was difficult at this time to determine how much methane had been released.

Matusic also questioned the numbers in the EPA report, noting federal regulators had not been part of the “incident command” since Feb. 21.

“That was preliminary,” Matusic said regarding the EPA estimation of 100 million cubic feet per day. “We’re not sure where that is coming from.”

In Ohio, both the state Department of Natural Resources and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency have certain regulatory authority over drilling. Steve Irwin, ODNR spokesman, said any citations have yet to be determined.

“Our priority has been and continues to be the safety of the workers and the community. ODNR will continue to investigate the cause of the incident and work with local first responders and our state partners on an after action review,” he said.

Matusic said XTO is determined to discover the source of the problem to prevent more blowouts.

“Our company really wants to get to the bottom of what went wrong,” she added.

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