Fracking sites claimed lives in Ohio and Colorado this week, bringing home concerns about worker safety that have grown as the controversial method of collecting oil and gas has increased.
A Virginia man working on an oil and gas pump at a fracking site in Noble County in eastern Ohio died in an explosion on Wednesday. It was the second major incident involving a fracking operation in Ohio in two weeks.
The man, Norman Butler, 48, was an electrical contractor working on a pump operated by Blue Racer Midstream.
The pump moves condensate, a toxic liquid that is a byproduct of oil and gas production, from oil and gas wells into pipelines that lead to processing facilities.
Butler would have been testing and calibrating electrical components on the pump, said Bill Strickland, vice president of Buffalo Gap Instrumentation and Electrical, the company that employed Butler.
Buffalo Gap, based in Texas, does most of its business with the oil and gas industry, Strickland said.
“We have never had anything like this (death) before,” he said. “It is very sobering.”
In northern Colorado today, a man was killed and two others seriously injured when a frozen high-pressure water line ruptured. One man was hit by a stream of water or fracking fluid and was killed by the impact.
The Colorado men were working for Halliburton, which had been contracted to perform fracking operations at the well. A Halliburton spokeswoman said the injured men were flown to nearby hospitals.
The explosion that killed Butler occurred about 4:15 p.m. Wednesday near a CONSOL Energy wellhead in Marion Township, about 100 miles east of Columbus and about 40 miles north of Marietta.
The well had been fracked earlier this year to access oil and gas in the Utica shale deep underground.
Fracking involves blasting a mixture of sand, water and chemicals deep underground to free oil and gas trapped inside the shale. After a well is fracked, that oil and gas comes to the surface through the well.
Two shale formations under eastern Ohio, the Utica and the Marcellus, have led to a swift increase in oil and gas operations there.
Blue Racer spokeswoman Casey Nikoloric said the company had not yet determined what caused the explosion. “It’s too early to tell,” Nikoloric said.
The well pad was still on fire late Thursday afternoon, according to Noble County Sheriff Stephen Hannum.
Hannum said in a news release that the blaze was “small, but dangerous.” No one else was hurt in the blast.
The state fire marshal’s office is investigating and has not determined what caused the explosion, said spokeswoman Lindsey Burnworth.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration also is investigating the explosion.
Ohio Environmental Protection Agency officials said no fracking chemicals got into waterways. The area around the explosion is heavy woods, and surrounding land is mostly owned by other oil and gas or coal companies.
After the news of the explosion and death, Teresa Mills, Ohio organizer with the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, called for a moratorium on fracking in the state.
“I think that the more the industry activity increases, unfortunately, we’re going to see more and more death and destruction,” she said.
Shawn Bennett, senior vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, which advocates for the oil and gas industry, said in an email that calls for a moratorium are shameful.
“It is not a time for speculation, as there is an ongoing investigation into this tragic incident,” Bennett said.
The explosion was the second major incident in Ohio in two weeks for Blue Racer.
On Oct. 28, a Blue Racer pipeline caught fire in Monroe County, just east of Noble County. The pipeline was carrying natural gas condensate from eastern Ohio to a natural-gas processing plant in West Virginia.
The October fire burned several acres of woods and forced families from their homes.
Blue Racer is a relatively new company formed by two larger energy companies: Dominion, headquartered in Richmond, Va., and Caiman Energy II, based in Texas.
The company also recently was cited by the Ohio EPA for violating an air-pollution permit in Carroll County after nearby residents complained about odors near one of the company’s facilities. Tests showed higher-than-allowed levels of volatile organic compounds.
There have been several other incidents at fracking sites in Ohio this year, including a Jefferson County well that ruptured last month, spewing natural gas and methane into the air and forcing evacuation of nearby homes.
And in June, a fire at a Monroe County well pad caused a spill that stretched 5 miles along a nearby creek and killed more than 70,000 fish and wildlife.
Information from the Associated Press was included in this story.