XTO well blast near Captina Creek

Photos by Scott McCloskey Emergency officials set up a command post along Ohio 148 next to the Clair Mar Golf Course in Powhatan Thursday while responding to an gas leak at XTO Energy’s Schnegg well pad near Cats Run Road.

POWHATAN POINT –XTO Energy fracked at least 40 natural gas wells in Belmont County without any major problems, but the Exxon Mobil subsidiary’s luck ran out with a Thursday morning blast at the Schnegg pad near Captina Creek.

XTO spokeswoman Karen Matusic said the company would provide hotel rooms for about 100 residents who evacuated the area within the 1-mile radius of the fire, which occurred around 9 a.m. Thursday as the company worked to frack a fourth well on the Schnegg pad.

“We had a loss of control, which led to a combination of gas and brine coming out of the well,” Matusic said. “No one was hurt.”

Exxon Mobil reported earnings of $8.4 billion from Oct. 1-Dec. 31. Matusic said anyone who lives within the 1-mile radius of the Schnegg pad in need of shelter or other assistance should call 1-855-351-6573.

“All the folks who have evacuated will have hotel rooms in St. Clairsville or Moundsville if they need them,” she added.

In Ohio, both the state Department of Natural Resources and state Environmental Protection Agency have certain regulatory authority over oil and natural gas drilling. Steve Irwin, ODNR spokesman, said the combination of methane and brine flowing out of the well in an uncontrolled manner created the flames.

Methane is the most common component of Marcellus and Utica shale gas streams, while most commercially marketed “natural gas” is methane. Brine can be a mixture of salt, water and other materials.

As of late Thursday, contractors worked to keep pollution from flowing into Captina Creek, as well as Cats Run.

“We are assessing that,” Irwin said of whether any pollution reached either stream. “We are putting booms into the creek to prevent anything that may be in there from spreading.”

“We’re doing everything we can to keep it out of the creek,” Matusic said.

When asked if they would classify the incident as an explosion, Matusic and Irwin settled on the description, “well control incident.”

Matusic emphasized no one was injured, while she said Wild Well Control contractors would report to the scene to extinguish the fire.

Though preliminary reports indicated a mudslide contributed to the problem at the well, Matusic said she could not confirm this, while Irwin said it was too early to tell.

According to ODNR, XTO produced natural gas from at least 40 separate wells in Belmont County last year. Most of the company’s operations are in the southeastern quadrant of the county near areas such as Powhatan Point, Shadyside and Bellaire.

“Thank goodness we’ve had a good record here. However, one incident is one too many for us. Safety is a top priority for XTO,” Matusic said.

Lou Gray, a resident of Town Run Road outside Powhatan Point, lives just inside the 1-mile radius of the evacuation area. He walked into the Powhatan Church of Nazarene Fellowship Hall Thursday afternoon after his daughter told him officials were evacuating the area.

“The only thing I heard was the blow off of the gas,” Gray about the well pad.

Gray said he was initially directed to go to the Powhatan Point Municipal Building and officials at that location advised him to go to the Church of Nazarene along Ohio 7. Gray said he was stopping at the fellowship hall temporarily until he could get back out to where other family members live so he could take care of family pets.

Staff Writer Scott McCloskey contributed to this report.

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