DEP Probes Blast in Gas-Drilling Region

Scranton, PA The Times-Tribune
3 January 2009


An explosion blew apart the 8-foot-wide cement slab covering a water well Thursday night in the heart of the Susquehanna County region where a natural gas operator is exploring for gas in the Marcellus Shale.

Local emergency crews and representatives of Cabot Oil and Gas, the firm exploring in the township, responded to Norma Fiorentino's house on Route 2024 at about 6 p.m. on New Year's Day to find the cement slab split open above a gaping manhole in her front yard.

The explosion's cause has not been determined, county emergency management coordinator Charlene Moser said. She said she suspects that a concentration of something flammable spontaneously combusted when the water well pump in the manhole turned on.

Neither the Springville Volunteer Fire Company nor Cabot's gas response crew detected the presence of natural gas when they tested the site on Thursday, according to Ms. Moser and Cabot spokesman Kenneth Komoroski. Mr. Komoroski said Cabot workers also checked nearby gas wells and pipelines and found no indication of any gas leaks.

The state Department of Environmental Protection plans to send an inspector to the site early next week to test the quality of water in Mrs. Fiorentino's well and attempt to capture any gas present, department spokesman Mark Carmon said. If inspectors find gas, they will send it to an out-of-state lab that can determine whether the gas originated from a shallow source or a deeper geological formation, like the mile-deep Marcellus Shale.

Mrs. Fiorentino's son, Shawn, noticed the remnants of the blast when he was insulating pipes under his mother's home on Thursday evening. No one was home at the time of the explosion, but neighbors reported hearing a loud boom and thinking it was a normal part of the gas well development in the region.

"We don't pay any attention (to loud noises) anymore because the oil companies are always blowing something off," Mrs. Fiorentino, 65, said at her home on Friday. The manhole above the well in her front yard had been covered over by hay bales. A round plastic table top that had been used to cap the entrance to the manhole had been tossed across the lawn and was broken in half in the snow.

Shawn Fiorentino said something had been blowing that make-shift cap off for weeks, and just last week he had been in the manhole with an open flame, soldering pipes.

"This is a disaster," he said as he stepped over caution tape and lifted aside hay bales to reveal the hole in the earth.

Mrs. Fiorentino stayed at a relative's house on Thursday night even though emergency crews told her it was safe to sleep at home. A recent widow who lives off social security, she does not have homeowner's insurance and said it will be difficult to pay to fix the well cover if DEP cannot determine what caused the damage. She suspects the nearby gas exploration is to blame.

"We're all poor people around here. We thought this was going to be great for us," she said, referring to the extensive gas development that has been concentrated in her town. "But we didn't expect explosions."

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