Well pad flared in a step toward capping

Flames reached into the sky near Powhatan Point in this image shared on Facebook as XTO Energy flares excess gas from the Schnegg pad.

POWHATAN POINT — After delays caused by weather and the need to move heavy debris, XTO Energy took another step toward resolving a Feb. 15 well pad explosion by diverting and flaring the well’s natural gas stream Tuesday.

Nearby residents heard a brief noise when the leaking natural gas stream, directed into a nearby excavated containment and burning area, was flared, XTO spokeswoman Karen Matusic. She noted the gas was expected to burn all night and said when the burning was completed, a safe working area should be prepared.

“Diverting and flaring the natural gas flowing from the well will ensure that no natural gas remains in the area during containment operations. Current monitoring indicates low levels of natural gas on the well pad. These levels are within acceptable health levels, and controlled flaring of the natural gas stream will further allow workers to safely gain containment of the well,” she said.

Light from the burning gas could be seen across much of Belmont County. A bright orange glow was spotted to the southeast from the area of Interstate 70 exit 208, near Union Local High School. In Belmont, that glow was accompanied by bright flashes that resembled lightning in the sky.

Residents in Centerville and St. Clairsville also said they could see the flames from the flaring process.

Matusic added that XTO Energy’s well control specialists were on hand Tuesday to complete the work while continuing well containment activities. She said air monitoring around the area continues without disruption, utilizing continuous fixed and mobile monitors. Air monitoring readings continue to show no public health or safety risks, Matusic said.

“This is a big step,” she said of the flaring process. “We’re doing this very methodically. We’re hoping soon we’re going to be having some very good news.”

She expects the well may be capped a few days after the burning is complete.

“Worker safety remains a top priority during the containment process,” she noted. “We’re going to start burning that off so that the guys can get in closer to the well to shut it in.”

Matusic said that as of Friday, crews had cleared the debris of a large crane damaged in the explosion from the well pad, allowing better access to the affected area. XTO also has rented a heavy-duty temporary bridge and installed it over Cats Run Creek. Matusic said the bridge helps workers access the well site, allowing vehicles and crews to come and go more smoothly.

In the aftermath of the February explosion, a total of 30 homes in a 1-mile radius of the pad were evacuated; those residents were housed in area hotels at XTOs expense. The exterior half-mile has since been cleared for residents to return, but four homes remain in the interior half-mile evacuation zone. Some evacuees have elected to remain away from home until the well is capped. Matusic said XTO has also covered residents’ losses of food and refrigerators due to a related power outage and has provided generators during flooding that resulted from heavy rain.

Residents whose homes are in the evacuation zone are allowed to access their homes to feed livestock and tend to other business. Matusic said XTO is trying to keep the roads in the area of the Schnegg pad clear for the stream of traffic moving to and from the well site.

The claims office remains open. Any local residents who may have been impacted by this incident are encouraged to call 855-351-6573 or visit XTO Energy’s community response command center at the Powhatan Point Volunteer Fire Department at 104 Mellott St.