XTO Well in Powhatan Point Capped After 20 Days

POWHATAN POINT — After weeks of work through inclement weather and the evacuation of 30 households following a well pad explosion Feb. 15, XTO Energy announced Wednesday that the well was successfully capped.

In order to make the site safe for workers to plug the leak, XTO “flared,” or burned off excess gas, at the site. The mostly methane gas was directed to an excavated containment area and ignited. The gas burned through the night, illuminating the sky above much of Belmont County with an orange glow. Residents in areas such as Morristown, Belmont and Centerville reported seeing the light from the flames, as well as bright flashes of light they compared to lightning.

The flaring process made the area safe for workers. Capping operations subsequently were completed fairly quickly Wednesday morning.

“We have gained control of the well. It has stopped flowing,” XTO spokeswoman Karen Matusic said. “We did the flare (Tuesday), and that was to move the gas away from the site so that the men could go on and shut the valve off. We also had to pump fluid and mud back into the well to further secure it, and once they did that and they were confident with the pressure and took some pressure testings, they were able to shut it off. The whole process took about two and a half hours (Wednesday) morning once they extinguished the flare.”

Matusic said the next step would be facilitating the evacuees’ return home.

In the days following the explosion, about 100 residents living in a 1-mile radius of the site were housed in four area hotels at XTO’s expense. Later, the evacuation zone was reduced to a half-mile, still containing four homes. Some residents in the exterior half-mile refrained from returning home until the well was capped.

Matusic said the homes in the exterior half-mile were tested and cleared for occupation, and the process will be repeated for the homes in the inner half-mile.

“As far as people going home, what we’re doing now is working with American Electric Power to restore power, because they’d shut off power in the area. Once the power’s back on, those four homes that had been evacuated within the half-mile, we’ll go in with them like we did with the other homes and test, room-by-room, air quality and also see to any repairs, anything that we have to do in the home, replace refrigerators, that sort of thing, to get these folks back in their homes,” she said.

“Once we go in with the monitor team with the residents, we go through and make sure that everything’s fine, that the air quality’s perfectly fine for them. Then our claims adjusters will go in with the residents and go through, room-by-room, to see if there are any repairs (needed), if there’s any damage — water pipes, if they need a new refrigerator or freezer. Those repairs can start right away, as soon as they secure contractors to do it. Repairs on some of the homes of people that have gone back have already begun.”

Now that the flow of gas is contained, XTO teams and state regulators will be able to assess the well pad site to determine the cause of the explosion.

Matusic added that water samples and air quality testing have been taking place throughout the incident.

“As far as any impact on trees or grasses or plants, we have biologists that can go out and look at that and replace anything that they see that might have been affected by the incident,” she said.

There is no timetable for when the well pad will be back in production, Matusic noted.

“It could be offline for as long as the investigation takes,” she said. “We’ll be doing a very thorough investigation. … We apologize to local residents for the disruption and thank them for their patience to restore everything back to normal. As far as claims go, we will make sure any vegetation that was affected by this will be restored.”

She added that state regulators will continue to make assessments. She pointed out that environmental assessments may be difficult at this time, due to factors such as a lack of leaves on the trees.

“We’ll continuously be going back there to put back anything we need to restore,” she said.

A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spokesperson said the Ohio Department of Natural Resources is the lead government agency at the XTO Energy well pad and that all questions should be referred to that agency at 614-265-6860.