Cause of fatal W.Va. well pad blast still unclear

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Federal officials said Wednesday they are still investigating a fatal explosion earlier this month at an EQT gas well pad in Taylor County and have yet to issue any violations.


Prentice Cline, area director of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Charleston, said he couldn’t comment further on the ongoing investigation. OSHA probes typically take several months.


State environmental regulators say they haven’t cited anyone either. Nor have they determined what sparked the Feb. 15 blast near Flemington.


But the Department of Environmental Protection did conclude that the rupture of a tank containing brine from the drilling operation didn’t harm the environment because the spilled fluid was contained by barriers, spokeswoman Kathy Cosco said. How much fluid flowed into the protective basin wasn’t immediately clear.


Brian Hopkins of Central Environmental Services was killed as he attempted to transfer briny wastewater from a tank into a truck. It’s a routine activity at drilling sites, and explosions are uncommon.


DEP investigators believe vapors that had gathered in the tank exploded in sudden flash, Cosco said, but the ignition source has not been identified.


“We thought there might be some petroleum-like constituents mixed in that water because that does happen,” she said, “but in this case, it was just water.”


Drillers inject massive volumes of water, sand and chemicals to hydraulically fracture, or frack, the rock in which gas deposits are trapped. The gas then flows up for collection, as does the brine.


So far, Cosco said, DEP has taken no enforcement actions against either company.


Both Central Environmental Services and Pittsburgh-based EQT have said they’re cooperating with investigators.


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