Work halted at 105 Marcellus Shale wells as DEP probes spill

    Chesapeake Energy temporarily shut down “completion operations” and hydraulic fracturing Thursday at its 105 Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale wells, after a major fluid spill at an upstate site in Bradford County.

    By and large, the leak was under control Thursday afternoon, but it still hadn’t been fully contained. Emergency officials thought they had stopped the spill Wednesday evening.

    Thursday afternoon, Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Dan Spadoni said a Texas-based containment company called “Boots and Coots” is leading the containment effort.

    “They have set up a mechanical system so that they can pump what’s called lost circulation material into the well to plug the leak,” he said. “They would then pump heavy mud into the well, and they are hopeful the combination will effectively seal the well,” Spadoni said. “There is a very small amount of flowback fluid that is coming from the well at the present time. Probably less than a barrel per minute. And that’s being vacuumed up by vacuum trucks. It’s not leaving the well pad.”

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    Overall, thousands of gallons of chemical-laden fracking fluid have spilled. DEP has conducted tests at seven private drinking wells and eight water sites. “We don’t have those sample results back at this time,” said Spadoni, “However, the field check did not reveal any impacts to the Susquehanna.”

    At least two Leroy Township families have been displaced by the spill.

    Chesapeake’s voluntary fracking moratorium came a few hours after environmental group PennFuture urged DEP to shut down the company’s drilling operations. “This latest serious problem at a Chesapeake Energy well site demands a serious and vigorous response from DEP,” said president and CEO Jan Jarrett in a statement.

    “Let’s remember that in February, an inferno erupted at one of Chesapeake’s wells in Washington County injuring three workers. Clearly this company needs to get its house in order and demonstrate to DEP and the public that it can carry on drilling operations safely,” she said.

    Chesapeake is one of the state’s top drilling companies. Its latest statement reads, “The exact causation of the breach is unknown. The location of the breach is in a wellhead connection, and our investigative efforts will initially focus there; there is no evidence of a downhole casing failure of any type. Chesapeake has voluntarily suspended all completion operations in Pennsylvania as we evaluate this incident. There have been no injuries, and there continues to be no danger to the public.”

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