CAMERON - As they sat in the Limestone Volunteer Fire Department Saturday, learning new strategies and discussing prior planning in the event an oil or gas rig were to explode or catch fire in the area again, local emergency management officials were told only one in 1,000 wells drilled would encounter a problem.
But crews spent Monday dealing with a rig fire on Pleasants Ridge in Marshall County, the third such event in a little more than four months, giving Emergency Management Director Tom Hart evidence to the contrary.
"We know that is not the case," he said
Crews spent Monday dealing with a rig fire on Pleasants Ridge in Marshall County, the third such event in a little more than four months.
The fire began just before 7 a.m. Sunday, when residents in the area notified both Marshall and Wetzel county sheriff's offices of an explosion. Crews working at the rig noticed the leaking gas prior to that explosion, which allowed them to clear the area. The only reported problem at the site was a firefighter suffering exhaustion, though he is expected to recover.
Crews from St. Joseph, Cameron, Silver Hill and Grandview volunteer fire departments, as well as Marshall, Wetzel and Cameron emergency management teams, responded to the incident at Chesapeake Appalachia LLC's Nomac 240 rig on the McDowell B well site. According to Hart, those crews remained on scene until about midnight Sunday and returned first thing Monday morning to monitor and secure the area.
"It could burn anywhere from 24-48 hours," Hart said.
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. They spent Monday removing items and rig equipment from around the well site, making the well head more accessible. Crews also cleared and leveled an area near the rig for a water tank and pump and installed a water supply line from an existing Chesapeake line. Special equipment, as well as additional well control specialists, arrived at the scene Monday afternoon.
That specialized equipment will be set on location early today to assist crews in safely extinguishing the fire, according to information from Chesapeake spokes-man Ryan Dean. He said crews stopped work about 8 p.m. Monday and would resume work at daybreak.
Hart said one of the main concerns is the location of the site, which is surrounded by a heavily wooded area. 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 Road 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 of injury.
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 an 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 news release. The statement adds that no fluid releases, spills or leaks have occurred and there is no imminent danger to residents in the area or the environment.
The fire is the third situation at a gas drilling site since June, when a gas well explosion on Beam's Lane in Marshall County 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.
A gas well leak occurred July 24 near Cameron, causing residents near the well to evacuate and roads near the site to be closed for more than six hours.