From the July 12, 2013 Issue.
Sunday morning around 4am the Doddridge/Ritchie 911 Center received a call out for fire and a burn victim off Brushy Fork Road in New Milton. Responding were BANCS Fire Department and Doddridge County Ambulance Authority. BANCS Volunteer Fire Chief Randy Trent was notified that his department needed to assist with a fire and a burn patient. What they found en route was the situation was much worse than first conveyed.
After being called out and leaving the station their dispatcher informed them that this was a well fire with several burn patients. The DCAA Ambulance was traveling toward the site and encountered several private vehicles exiting the area. They were flagged down and saw the private vehicles were actually transporting patients. They were able to get three of these patients transferred to an ambulance. Realizing the situation was much, much worse than notified they immediately called for back-up units to be sent to the scene. The three patients were triaged* in route to UHC. The 911 Center toned out several departments to back up the original dispatched ambulance. The Harrison County Unit 657 was able to meet up with the DCAA unit and take two of the less severe burn patients on to UHC. The most severe patient stayed with the DCAA Crew as they made there way to UHC. The Doddridge County Emergency Squad / Company Five was able to back up the original call immediately and responded to the other victims near the well site.
Air ambulances were also called in to the scene but did not launch due to fog and incoming weather in the area. Recent budget cuts enacted on July 1, 2013 left only one DCAA night shift crew to respond to the call. Other calls for assistance in the county would have to be handled by the Doddridge County Emergency Squad / Company 5. It needs to be stated clearly that even with an additional crew on shift at the DCAA, the original call coming in was for a single burn patient. The protocol and system were hindered from the beginning.
Chief Trent and his crew continued on toward the accident site. Arriving at the Ruddy Pad they were met by a worker from Antero and were the first to inspect the scene of the accident. They noted two holding tanks in flames and other fires spread across the site. The two holding tanks were approximately fifty feet from the well head, remnants of the explosions that ripped the units apart. The flames were shooting one to two stories high in the air. The flames were quickly extinguished with foam. Training for fire fighters and all first responders teaches them that you cannot utilize water hoses in a petroleum based fire.
We spoke with Antero Vice President Alvyn Schopp on Monday afternoon via phone. Mr. Schopp expressed concern over the five injured and noted that this was a difficult situation for all parties involved. The workers injured were three workers from Nabors Completion and Production Service and one each from C and R Downhole Drilling and Willowbend Investments Inc. according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Four were listed in serious condition and one was in stable condition. Mr. Schopp noted that the five injured had sustained burns in varying degrees and all were taken to West Penn Burn Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “We won’t be updating their conditions unless the families give us permission to release that information. We want to respect their privacy.” He went on to explain that he can only convey what they know as fact at this point.
“The accident occurred on the Hinterer 1H Well Site - Ruddy Alt Wellpad just off of Brushy Fork Road in New Milton. You can access the pad from WV Route 18 South.” Mr. Schopp stated. The Ruddy Pad contains three wells to date.
“Our team had just finished up drilling out the well plugs after the fracking operation. Everything was going according to plan at that point. The well was essentially completed and the team was beginning to place the production tubes into the well.” Mr. Schopp stated that somehow gas entered the flow back tanks and ignited, causing an explosion and fire. That’s really all I can tell you as fact right now.”
He noted that the site is completely shut down until OSHA and WV DEP conclude their investigations into the accident. Antero has also hired two independent investigative firms to add more credentials to the OSHA and WV DEP investigations. “We want to know exactly what happened and how to prevent anything like this from happening in the future”
A pre-investigation look at the situation shows the source of the ignition seems to have been a pump at the third well on the site, said Office of Oil and Gas supervisor Rick Campbell. The pump at the time malfunctioned, it was being used to push data logging equipment down into the horizontal wellbore, which had been drilled and hydraulically fractured, by pumping the fluid behind it.
The pump under investigation is run by a diesel engine. The fluid that comes back up from wells during gas production contains some level of potentially explosive volatile organic compounds, and is sometimes re-used for purposes such as this. That returned fluid is known as “produced water” and was contained in two tanks next to the pump.
The tanks “ruptured,” Mr. Campbell stated. Distinguishing between the difference between “splitting open” as opposed to “exploding,” his description did not rule out the possibility that fumes containing volatile materials had accumulated inside the tanks and exploded. At this point it is only speculation; WV DEP is on the site is determining whether any environmental contamination resulted from the accident.
Fluid did spill from the tanks, and as they are designed to function, the lining and berm at the site contained the spill and it was vacuumed up. A WV DEP inspector on site is confirming that no contaminated fluid reached nearby waterways.
Antero is not permitting any on-site photography until the investigations are concluded.
Of concern to DCAA Director Randy Flinn was that the injured were transported outside the site which made triaging the patients much more difficult. The DCAA never went directly to the site as they were met on the road with the victims. At the time it was unclear as to the status of the other five workers. “The best way to handle this situation is the way we had it planned. Allow the EMS units on site so we can assess the most critical patients and get them moved first. This decision shouldn’t be left up to the workers, they are not trained to look for critical signs in trauma.”
Director Flinn noted that he will be conducting an investigation as well to “see where the system broke down.” “From the moment we were toned (called) out, our crew followed standard procedure, but it never hurts to double check every step. That’s how we eliminate any break in protocol.” He also informed us that a copy of the 911 tape will be sent to him for review. “It’s disturbing that it seems the original dispatch called for a single ambulance for a single burn victim and what we encountered is classified as mass casualties.”