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State agency: Fracking fire likely fouled eastern Ohio creek

By Laura Arenschield | The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

A fire last weekend at a Monroe County fracking well likely sent contaminants into a nearby creek, killing crayfish, minnows and smallmouth bass as far as 5 miles away from the site, state officials said yesterday.

Officials of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources said crews fighting the fire flooded the area with water on Saturday, likely sending fracking chemicals into the creek, which feeds into the Ohio River.

The agency and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency are investigating the fire and fish kill at the site, about 130 miles east of Columbus.

Bethany McCorkle, spokeswoman for the Department of Natural Resources, said she did not know whether contaminants had reached the Ohio. The EPA said it doesn’t know yet whether area drinking water has been tainted.

The Ohio EPA, which deals with pollutants when they reach state waters, said that the Monroe County Health Department would monitor well water.

John Shreve, environmental health director for that health department, said contamination that kills fish in a creek might not necessarily contaminate groundwater.

He said well owners have to ask for those tests. As of yesterday, no one had requested testing.

Related: Ohio third in nation for serious Hazmat accidents

Saturday’s fire on the Eisenbarth well pad, in eastern Ohio across the Ohio River from West Virginia, started when a piece of fracking machinery malfunctioned, McCorkle said.

She said something happened to tubing used to pump fracking fluid to wells. During the fracking process, that fluid is pumped deep underground at high pressure to crack the shale and release natural gas and oil trapped there.

Saturday’s fire spread from the tubing to 20 trucks lined up on the well pad, the area that surrounds the wells, McCorkle said. Those trucks ignited, sending thick clouds of black smoke into the air.

No workers were hurt, but one firefighter was treated for smoke inhalation. As many as 25 families who live near the wells were evacuated.

“We were very fortunate that there were no injuries,” McCorkle said.

Statoil North America, the company that operates the well pad, has permits for eight wells on the site, state records show. Only one well was being fracked. The others either had been fracked or will be in the future, McCorkle said.

McCorkle said the wells that had been fracked had been capped, which likely kept the fire from being more severe.

Neither state agency could provide a list of chemicals yesterday that were on the site when the fire started, but fracking chemicals include ethylene glycol, which can damage kidneys; formaldehyde, a known cancer risk; and naphthalene, which is considered a possible carcinogen.

The Monroe County well pad caught fire less than two months after a well in Morgan County spilled thousands of gallons of oil and chemicals into surrounding fields and streams.

Statoil North America drills for oil and natural gas throughout the Utica and Marcellus shale regions, and has 17 wells in Ohio, all in Monroe County, according to state records.

The company has established a hot line for residents affected by Saturday’s fire. The number is 1-866-893-9512.



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