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Pennsylvania Natural Gas Blowout Spills Thousands of Gallons of Toxic Wastewater into Local Community

On the anniversary of the blowout of BP’s Macando deepwater oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. energy industry is dealing with another fossil fuel spill — this time it is a natural gas well in Pennsylvania.

Late Tuesday night Chesapeake Energy Corporation lost control of its Marcellus Shale well near Canton, Pennsylvania.  The company reports that a piece of equipment failed during the hyrdraulic fracturing process.  As a result, thousands of gallons of chemical-laden water have spilled out from the well into nearby fields and farms.

Local news outlet, WNEP reports that officials have stated the toxic fracking fluid has entered the Towanda Creek which feeds into the Susquehanna River.

Seven families have been evacuated from the area.  A spokesperson for Chesapeake Energy said the families will be removed until the blowout is contained.  “As a precautionary measure, seven families who live near the location have been temporarily relocated until all agencies involved are confident the situation has been contained.  There have been no injuries or natural gas emissions to the atmosphere.”

Chesapeake is the country’s second largest producer of natural gas.  The company particularly focuses on developing unconventional sources of onshore oil and gas.  As of December 31, 2010, Chesapeake held 13.3 million net acres of land across the United States, on which the company has identified 38,000 drilling opportunities. 

From their entire land holding, Chesapeake has designated 2.5 million acres for shale gas development.  The company estimates it holds 15,800 drilling locations capable of producing 7.7 trillion cubic feet of proven reserves and 64 trillion cubic feet of risked unproven reserves.  Furthermore, over the next two years, the company plans to make significant investments in building its capacity to hydraulically fracture its wells

Unconventional extraction of natural gas is conducted using the controversial drilling technique hydraulic fracturing or fracking.  There are significant environmental concerns surrounding hydraulic fracturing, primarily regarding the disposal of the toxic drilling water which is injected to break up the rock formations and release the gas. 

Sitting on one of the largest reserves of shale gas in the world — the Marcellus Shale — Pennsylvania is the epicenter of America’s unconventional natural gas industry.  The state has had its share of fracking debacles.  Increased regulation of the industry has slowly began to take shape. 

In November of 2010, the city of Pittsburgh banned natural gas drilling, citing threats to drinking water.  Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Governor and the State Department of Environmental Protection have ordered Marcellus Shale gas drillers to stop transporting wastewater to 15 treatment plants.

Natural gas has become a rising star in United States’ energy conversation; yet much like nuclear energy and offshore oil drilling, production of this energy source offers significant environmental and health risks.

Chesapeake Energy has yet to release an official statement regarding the spill.  As of 3:00 PM EST, the company’s shares (NYSE: CHK) remain unscathed by the negative news.  Currently, Chesapeake shares are up 1.7% for the day, trading at a value of $32.51.

Nathanael Baker's picture

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Atomik Rabbit's picture
Atomik Rabbit on Apr 21, 2011 2:33 am GMT

“Natural gas has become a rising star in United States’ energy conversation; yet much like nuclear energy and offshore oil drilling, production of this energy source offers significant environmental and health risks.”

It’s nothing short of slanderous to link the two. I can easily cite dozens of cases in the past year alone where members of the American public have been injured, threatened, or killed by methane – in the entire 50 year history of American nuclear energy production there is none.

Nathanael Baker's picture
Nathanael Baker on Apr 21, 2011 5:36 pm GMT

I don’t think the link is that slanderous.  They both produce hazardous by-products to human health.  And there are energy sources that can be further developed which don’t offer such risks.

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