Cleanup ongoing at site of gas leak

CENTER TWP.-The initial cleanup from a gas leak that occurred on May 4 on Center Bend Road in Morgan County is mostly complete, but there is still quite a ways to go before the well pad is leak-free and operational again.

Nestled amongst small hills and farm land, quite a few houses have a direct line of sight of the well site, where towering drilling equipment owned by Colorado-based PDC Energy can be seen.

The initial cleanup happened immediately after the Palmer Well Pad, at 1244 Center Bend Road near Beverly, experienced a loss of control during which the well expelled about 40 barrels of a mixture of natural gas and drilling mud.

Teri Palmer, 43, owns the property on which the well sits. She said she never had concerns after the well leak and isn’t worried moving forward.

“These guys jumped right on it (after the leak),” she said. “They were very good about it and have been good about it ever since.”

Palmer said she did relocate to a second home on the property, but not because of a safety issue.

“We never even left our property,” she said. “We have another house and we went over there to stay out of their way so they could use the driveway as much as possible. We just stayed out to stay out of their way, not because we thought we were in danger.”

Palmer said the company also offered to put the family up in a hotel room for a week.

Mike Edwards, senior director of investor relations for PDC, said in an email Wednesday that the company has discontinued drilling and the well has been plugged.

“The company discontinued drilling operations on the well that experienced a mechanical failure and subsequent release,” he said. “The well has been plugged and we are in the process of removing the drilling rig and related equipment.”

Mark Bruce, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said the reason the well was plugged stemmed from something left behind after the initial incident.

“During drilling, the drill bit is connected to a drilling pipe,” he said. “When the incident occurred (PDC) cut the drilling pipe to cut the flow of gas.”

Bruce said many attempts were made to get the pipe out of the drilling area.

“They can’t get it out,” he said. “There is no way for them to continue drilling this well.”

Edwards added that progress has been made in the cleanup process and that there’s still work to do on the well pad.

“After (removal of the drilling equipment) we’ll be better able to assess the scope and timing of cleanup and remediation process on the pad,” he said. “The company continues to work with state and federal regulators during this process and has made significant progress cleaning up impacted areas off the well pad.”

Bruce said liners surrounding the well pad caught a lot of the drilling mud that escaped during the leak.

“They actually have to pull up the liners and clean out the area under the liners,” he said. “They’re not dismantling the whole pad; they’re taking their equipment off of the pad to clean it up. I’m not sure of a time frame, but the company can bring the rig back on and drill another horizontal lateral well from that pad.”

Ohio EPA spokeswoman Heather Lauer said initial cleanup efforts in a surrounding stream have been successful.

“Most of it’s been cleaned up that’s been getting into the stream,” she said.

Despite this, Lauer said there are three spots of oil seepage from the ground.

“Oil’s (saturated) into the bank and now it’s coming out of the bank,” she said. “The company has) them blocked off with absorbent material and is monitoring them daily.”

Don Reynolds, 65, another Center Bend Road resident who resides near the well pad said he wasn’t concerned when he heard of the leak.

“I’m pretty confident they got on it pretty quick,” he said. “They called all the proper officials; it didn’t concern me a whole lot.”

Reynolds said moving forward, he’s not thinking about another incident.

“There’s always that possibility that something could happen, but I’m not too worried about it,” he said. “Accidents happen. I think so far they’ve tried to do the right thing.”

Center Township Trustee Neil McKown said nobody has shared any concerns with him about the leak or concerns they have going forward and said PDC has been exceptional.

“PDC has been really good to work with,” he said. “We haven’t experienced any problems at all.”

Palmer said most of the initial cleanup happened during the first week after the leak and she’s confident PDC will take care of any issues that arise.

“They don’t have anything to hide and (the leak) could have been a heck of a lot worse,” Palmer said. “We have a good working relationship with these people.”

Bruce said the work is far from over.

“Obviously, the total cleanup is not finished,” he said. “There’s still work to do.”