Ohio is burning: Where is that XTO fracking fire?

On February 14, 2018, an XTO frack well suffered what the company terms a "loss of containment" -- that is, in plain language, an explosion and fire. Days later, residents within a mile of the site were still prohibited from entering the area, while a well-control contractor assembled workers and equipment to begin recovery operations.


See updates below....


The Earthworks Community Empowerment Project has filed a complaint with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) regarding on-going air pollution at the XTO Schnegg site, among others. Earthworks has invested in a certified optical gas imaging capability, which it is using to follow up on residents' complaints of continuing health problems in Ohio and Pennsylvania.


As of Wednesday, March 7, XTO reports that their blown-out well has been capped. The Utica-shale well, near Powhatan Point, Ohio, had been spilling gas into the air for three weeks.
On Thursday, March 1 (two weeks after the blowout), The Intelligencer of Wheeling, WV, reported an update that was given at the Belmont County commissioners meeting. The Powhatan Point well has still not been capped, but the commissioners "commended" XTO on its response to the incident.
As of Sunday, February 25, a half-mile evacuation zone was still in force, and gas escaping from the XTO well could still be heard from outside the evacuation perimeter. There has been no further information released to the public.
An EPA report was obtained on February 21, describing the incident status as of Saturday, February 17. The EPA reports that XTO's estimate of the rate of discharge of gas from the out-of-control well is 100Mcf/day. The report also records XTO's inventory of "hazardous substances" on the well pad at the time of the blow-out, as follows:
  • 225,500 gallons of hydrochloric acid
  • 19,739 gallons of "FR-16" (containing hydrotreated light petroleum distillates and ethylene glycol)
  • 8,413 gallons of "GA-7F" (containing hydrotreated light petroleum distillates, guar gum, ethoxylated alcohols and oranophylic clay)
  • 3,499 gallons of "SI-6" (containing ammonium chloride, monoethanolamine hydrochloride, methanol and "proprietary components")
  • 1,976 gallons of "BioClear 2000" (containing 2,2-Dibromo-3-nitrilopropionamide)
  • 635 gallons of "BR-11" (containing ammonium persulfate, cured resin and silica)
  • 454 gallons of "CI-3" (containing ethylene glycol, dimethylformamide, 2-butoxyethanol, 4-nonylphenol, 1-octanol, isopropanol and triethyl phosphate)

plus other materials described (in the OSHA-mandated Safety Data Sheets) only as "trade secrets."

[By comparison, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources reports the average flow rate of another producing well on the same pad as approximately 9,000Mcf/d.]


As of Tuesday, Feb. 20, WTRF reported that some residents were being allowed to return home, but the evacuation was still being enforced for the area within 1/2 mile of the pad. Electric power is still out for part of the area, and the well has not yet been "shut in," according to XTO, per the WTRF report.

UPDATE: Photos by Rich Sidwell as of Sunday, February 18, 2018


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As of Saturday, February 17, the Wheeling, WV, Intelligencer reports that unburned gas (described as "methane") is still flowing from the XTO well. Crews are waiting for winds to subside before approaching the pad, and a 1-mile evacuation zone is being enforced. Apparently the fire has stopped, but there would be continued risk of re-ignition.

Belmont County where the burning well is located, is at the center of Ohio's fracking field, and XTO's out-of-control "Schnegg" operation is among those which penetrate the Utica formation -- deeper and potentially more lucrative than the Marcellus. Before fracking, the county was extensively mined for coal, so its residents are no strangers to fossil fuel extraction. Now the county is thoroughly pock-marked with Utica wells and crisscrossed by pipeline trenches and rights-of-way.

On the east, the county is bounded by the Ohio River, with Moundsville, West Virginia, on the opposite bank. The river town closest to the burning XTO well is Powhatan Point, Ohio, where the evacuees are staying until they can go back home. About seven miles up-river from Powhatan Point, in Dilles Bottom, is a brownfield site where First Energy's R. E. Burger plant was demolished in 2016. (The plant was a coal-fired generation facility, which had been shut down as uneconomical.)

Now the former First Energy site is identified as the location for the Ohio River's second ethane "cracker" development. A decision on the cracker has been dragging out, but (if built) the plant would have approximately the same capacity as the Shell Appalachia facility which is under construction in Pennsylvania.

This same stretch of the Ohio River has been proposed as part of the so-called "Appalachian Storage Hub," which is being heavily promoted by the economic development interests in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. So the XTO fire is not an isolated "fluke" occurrence -- it is also a foretaste of one version of Belmont County's future for a generation to come.