Fire at Gas Site Quickly Contained

Washington PA  Observer Reporter
2 March 2011
By Christie Campbell, Staff writer

HICKORY - A small fire that erupted with a loud bang in a tank outside a MarkWest Liberty Midstream and Resources LLC gas compressing station shook nearby residents from their beds early Tuesday.

The fire was quickly extinguished by a MarkWest employee using a fire extinguisher, but its occurrence six days after a flash fire in a storage tank at an Avella drilling site renewed safety concerns about the growing Marcellus Shale gas drilling industry.

The fire broke out at the Stewart compressing facility, which is operated by MarkWest on Caldwell Avenue in Mt. Pleasant Township. The fire is believed to have started when a heater malfunctioned. The fire was extinguished before firefighters from Mt. Pleasant arrived. The Washington County Department of Public Safety also responded.

MarkWest processes natural gas for Range Resources Inc. The company operates 10 compressing stations in Washington County and has proposed placing one on Route 980 near Coleman Road in Cecil Township.

Becky Skirpan, who lives about a half-mile from the site, said there was a loud boom about 5 a.m. that shook her house. Then, she saw fire trucks speeding down the road with their lights on but without sirens.

"We didn't know what was going on," she said.

About five hours later, a representative from Range Resources and two from MarkWest stopped at her home to inform her of what had happened.

Dan Campbell, spokesman for MarkWest at its Denver, Colo., office, said 15 minutes after the report was made to 911, a compressor technician arrived on-site and used an extinguisher to put out the fire.

He said there was no explosion but an eruption that probably created "a significant amount of noise," enough to frighten local residents.

The station is not operating while the company continues its investigation into the cause, Campbell said.

Katy Gresh, state Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman, said there are three 400-barrel tanks used to catch hydrocarbons between the stages of gas compression. One tank had water in it, and the other two were empty. A heater malfunctioned and ignited a fire from residual vapors that blew the hatch off a second tank.

A DEP inspector reported no evidence of environmental damage or a discharge of liquids.

Range employees also responded to the site. Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella said given the heightened sensitivity related to last week's natural gas storage tank fire at Chesapeake-Appalachia's Powers well pad in Independence Township, the response "was appropriate." That incident resulted in the injury of three workers.

Larry Grimm, a Mt. Pleasant Township supervisor, fielded a call from a resident who has a natural gas pipeline about 25 feet from her house and is now concerned for her safety.

"There's a lot of people afraid about this and what's happening all over the country. And they have reason for concern," Grimm said.