This week near Bolivar, Ohio a natural gas well explosion occurred that resulted in the death of young man who was painting the well. The gas storage tank blew one hundred feet in the air and landed some one hundred and twenty five yards away from the well. It landed across the street from a neighborhood of homes. The flames from the explosion rose hundreds of feet in the air. The storage tank also landed in a ball of flames in close proximity to these homes. Elected officials and industry executives were quick to point out that this was a natural gas well that was drilled in the mid 1980’s. It was a vertical well and not a more modern horizontal well like the ones that are being drilled currently all throughout Eastern Ohio. For those familiar with the industry, this was a “Clinton” well. These are wells that are all around us and are drilled from four to seven thousand feet into the earth into the Clinton sandstone formation. Although the well in Bolivar was of an older generation, the industry points out that wells drilled today may have superior standards of safety. This is because of additional cement casings of the vertical piping in each well. However, we do not have the benefit of looking thirty some years into the future and determining if these standards will be adequate. For this reason, the Bolivar incident does bring to mind two major concerns. The first is safe placement of well heads. The second is their long term care and maintenance.
No matter what safety records are touted, the explosion near Bolivar and others like it, prove that major explosions can happen. For this reason, every well head placed near people is a potential risk. In my own neighborhood, along Shannon Road in Girard, there is a Clinton well placed no more than what appears to be 100 feet from a large apartment complex. At Girard High School there is a well placed no more than 100 feet from houses and potentially that close to the school itself. I myself, when on city council in Girard, voted to place a well roughly 50 feet from a baseball field in Liberty Park. The Mathews School District is discussing the placement of wells on their properties and is touting the financial benefits of doing so. The park in the Village of McDonald has these wells very close to their baseball field. The Village of Poland is debating whether to put oil and gas wells at their cemetery property. It is clear that all of these well placements were done for economic reasons. The wells help fund the activity and infrastructure on the surface properties.
Initially, these wells bring upfront money from signing bonuses. Then the wells bring royalties over time. Once the wells get older and produce less, will they be properly cared for? Will incidents like the one in Bolivar occur? These are places involve the safety of our children. They are near schools, restaurants, offices, and parks. In addition, if these kinds of explosive accidents happen more regularly, will the liability insurance on these properties aid to the overall cost of their operating expenses?
From the industry’s point of view, this will most likely be labeled as yet another “Not In My Backyard” gripe. They would likely prefer these questions not be asked until after they have drained the last drop of oil from our region. I hope they are asked now instead.