The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has levied a $76,546 fine against Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. for an incident at a natural gas well in Susquehanna County in January, DEP said.
According to the DEP, the incident occurred the morning of Jan. 5 at the company's Huston well pad in Brooklyn Township. A subcontractor was dispatched to the site to replace equipment on the wellhead but allegedly did not follow standard operating procedures for the process by failing to first warm the wellhead before conducting any work in the freezing temperature. A wing valve was subsequently damaged.
DEP said that an analysis of the damaged wing valve indicated that it was in the open position and allowed gas to escape. The analysis also found frozen sand in the valve bore may have obstructed movement of the gate, which would have caused a function test to indicate the valve was closed when it was actually open.
"Cabot lost control of the Huston J1 gas well for 27 hours, to which the department responded to promptly ensure there were no significant environmental impacts," DEP Director of District Oil and Gas Operations John Ryder said. "In this incident, mostly gas was released, which dissipated quickly to background levels within 100 feet from the well."
Cabot spokesman George Stark and DEP said the company contacted Houston-based Wild Well Control Inc. (WWC) for assistance. WWC installed two hydraulic valves to diminish the flow of gas from the damaged valve, allowing it to be replaced. DEP said the well was brought under control before 1 p.m. on Jan. 6.
DEP said that during the incident, Cabot contacted five property owners within a quarter mile of the Huston well pad to notify them of the situation, but no evacuation was needed based on the agency's air monitoring. Regulators worked on and in the vicinity of the well pad used meters to detect combustible gas levels during the incident to determine if there was an explosive atmosphere.
The agency issued a notice of violation (NOV) to Cabot on Jan. 16. The NOV requested the company provide a written response within 10 days, which Cabot did. DEP said the company's response said "it could not determine the exact amount of natural gas or fluid released because it was not possible to safely measure the flows, but said the majority of the release consisted of natural gas."
Stark told NGI's Shale Daily the company regularly performs emergency drills and has policies and procedures in place to handle an incident like the one that occurred at the Huston well pad.
"It was handled that quickly," Stark said Tuesday. "By doing this often, you try to get proficient at it. Even though it was a valve that we could not close, it still worked from a textbook example of what we plan for. Fortunately we were able to put the plan into place, assess it, correct it, and remedy the situation."