A vent from an underground natural gas storage well in western Pennsylvania has spewed massive amounts of planet-warming methane into the atmosphere for more than 11 days and attempts to plug the leak have so far failed.
Owner Equitrans Midstream said the well at its Rager Mountain storage facility, located in a rural area about 1.5 hours east of Pittsburgh, is venting about 100 million cubic feet of natural gas per day, according to the first estimates.
If true, that would represent 1.1 billion cubic feet of emissions so far, equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from burning 1,080 railcars of coal.
Pennsylvania environmental regulators issued the company a notice of five potential violations of state law. As a precaution, the Federal Aviation Administration has restricted aircraft within 1 mile of the leaking well.
A written statement provided Friday by Equitrans spokeswoman Natalie Cox said “there are no immediate public safety concerns” and that the company has been working with a company that specializes in well services. to plug the leak, which was first reported on November 6.
The Rager facility is in Jackson Township, in the heart of the Marcellus Shale formation which has seen a boom in gas production since the introduction of hydraulic fracturing more than a decade ago. Residents living within four miles of the leak told The Associated Press on Friday they could hear the roar of pressurized gas escaping from the well and smell the fumes.
Tracey Ryan, who homeschools her two young children at her home about three miles away, said the air smelled of sulfur and the noise was so bad she had trouble sleeping.
“When you’re lying in bed at night, it feels like a jet plane taking off,” the 39-year-old mother said. “It’s unreal, the noise that happens, and it’s constant. … Everyone keeps telling us that we are safe. But you don’t feel safe if you can hear it and feel it.
Methane, the main component of natural gas, is colorless and odorless. But when the gas is processed for transportation and sale, producers add a chemical called mercaptan to give it a distinctive “rotten egg” smell that helps make people aware of leaks.
The earth-warming power of methane is about 83 times stronger over 20 years than the carbon dioxide that comes from car exhaust pipes and power plant chimneys. Oil and gas companies are the main industrial emitters of methane, which, once released into the atmosphere, will disrupt the climate for decades, contributing to more heat waves, hurricanes, wildfires and floods.
The new leak comes as the Environmental Protection Agency on November 11 updated proposed new rules aimed at reducing methane and other harmful emissions from oil and gas operations.
The Rager facility has 10 storage wells with a total storage capacity of 9 billion cubic feet of natural gas. Equitrans said Thursday the leak was stopped when workers flooded the leaking shaft, but the hissing of venting gas returned early Friday morning.
Cox warned that the estimate of 100 million cubic feet of natural gas leakage per day is preliminary and that the company would not be able to provide an accurate account of the gas lost until a verification study of the inventory is not complete.
The initial estimate would potentially see the Rager leak as smaller but comparable to daily emissions from the worst uncontrolled gas leaks in US history – a 2018 blowout at an Ohio gas well. owned by an ExxonMobil subsidiary and the 2015 Aliso Canyon disaster storage facility in California.
Citations issued against the company by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection include failures to properly maintain and operate the gas plant, creating a public nuisance and producing a “danger to public health and safety “. The company was also cited for failing to provide state inspectors with “free and unrestricted access.”
Lauren Camarda, spokeswoman for the state environmental agency, said when members of a state emergency response team first arrived at the site Nov. 7, they were initially barred from entry and told ‘access was restricted to essential personnel only’.
Cox said when the state team arrived, Equitrans contractors were still implementing a safety limit to avoid introducing a potential ignition source that could ignite the methane highly. flammable gas that escapes into the air.
The gas comes from a vent designed to relieve the intense pressures building up in the well and prevent a blowout. Cox said the company is now taking gas from four storage wells to reduce overall pressure in the field. Efforts to plug the leak were expected to continue throughout the weekend, including attempts to plug the well with concrete.
Nearby residents said a resolution couldn’t come soon enough.
Edana Glessner, who runs a wedding venue 3.6 miles from the well site, said the smell made her nauseous and was impacting her business.
“You could hear it at the last wedding we had,” she said. “And it smelled good, but everyone was ok with that. We said we were really sorry.
Biesecker reported from Washington and Rubinkam from northeastern Pennsylvania.
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