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Antero Hits Aquifer in West Virginia, Blows Out Abandoned Water Wells

Antero Resources disturbed an aquifer while attempting to dislodge a stuck drillbit at a new Marcellus Shale natural gas well in West Virginia's Harrison County on Wednesday morning, causing blowouts at four abandoned private water wells.

Alvyn Schopp, Antero vice president for accounting and administration, told NGI's Shale Daily that the company's crew had drilled about 250 feet of the new Zirk #1-H well near Sardis when the hole, measuring 17.5 inches in diameter, caved in.

"We were drilling with fresh water and air when we got cobble and stone over the top of the drillbit," Schopp said Thursday. "They were still pumping air and water, trying to get circulation back. The air didn't get shut off properly and that pressured up the aquifer.

"The good news was that all of the houses in the area were on city water, so these were all abandoned water wells. But it was a bit of surprise for them to see something that they thought had been abandoned 20 years ago now having water come out of it."

Schopp said that as of Thursday evening the drillbit was still stuck and the crew was trying to free it. Asked if the Denver-based company would cap the well he said, "it's a little early for that yet. I don't know. We're being very careful as we wash out, but we'll probably make that call within the next day or so."

Paul Bump, chief of the Harrison County Bureau of Emergency Services, told NGI's Shale Daily the incident began between 5 and 5:30 a.m. EDT Wednesday and lasted for more than three hours. He said that at one residence, water shot 10 to 12 feet into the air. At two other residences, water was seen bubbling from the ground and came up through a garage floor.

"Water was gushing out of the old wellheads," Bump said. "It was filthy, muddy water. There was debris in it, but it wasn't oily, gassy, smelly or anything like that. It was just standard water coming out of the ground. It was coming out at a pretty good amount of pressure."

Bump said there were no injuries and no one was evacuated.

"From local accounts, the two people I've talked to don't use [the wells] anymore," Bump said. "They were basically capped off. One still uses it to water their garden."

Kathy Cosco, spokeswoman for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, told NGI's Shale Daily that inspectors were at the site of the incident on Wednesday and planned to return on Friday. She said Antero was asked to monitor the water wells that were blown out.

Asked if Antero would be fined for the incident, Cosco said she didn't know. "The Office of Oil and Gas has not determined yet whether they will be fined for this," Cosco said. "I know that it is likely that there will be some type of order that will outline steps going forward, but whether there will be a fine associated with that, I don't know.

"The company has stepped up and has been very forthright in saying that they will cover all of the damages that were caused. I think that's commendable."

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