Less than a week ago yet another Pennsylvania industrial accident injured three workers. Three contract employees were burned as a result of a flash fire at natural gas drilling site in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Chesapeake Energy, one of the largest producers of natural gas, has a Marcellus shale natural gas drilling site near the small town of Avella, Pennsylvania (next to the West Virginia border). Marcellus shale is a special layer of rock found deep underground that traps natural gas in its natural pores and fractures. To release the gas and oil trapped in the Marcellus shale layer, most energy and natural gas companies use a hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," process.
Last Wednesday evening a flash fire occurred at one of Chesapeake Energy's hydraulic fracturing sites. The initial explosion ignited five large storage tanks that housed natural gas liquids. The tanks burned for several hours. Nearby neighbors told reporters that the explosion shook their houses and rattled windows, and they immediately noticed the entire hillside on fire.
Three contract employees were working with the storage tanks at the time of the fire. The injured contract workers were taken to the hospital, where two of them were reported to be "acutely ill" according to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Their current status is unknown.
State officials and a company spokesperson said they still aren't sure what caused the fire in the first place. But gas condensate (essentially natural gas liquids or "wet gas" ) produced at the wells was being transferred into the storage tanks when the fire started. Both the company and Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection are investigating the incident.
The wells at the site were all shut down following the flash fire, although none were affected by the fire, according to a statement released by the company.
This most recent gas explosion has drawn further attention to health concerns surrounding Pennsylvania's natural gas industry and potential water contamination from the fracking process.