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Leaking American Energy Partners Well in Ohio Prompts Evacuation of Hundreds

A natural gas leak at an unconventional well operated by American Energy Partners LP affiliate American Energy Utica LLC prompted an overnight evacuation order in southeast Ohio's Jefferson County after emergency management officials feared it could lead to an explosion, according to state regulators.

Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle said a mandatory evacuation order was issued within a two-mile radius of the well, which she was told by local emergency management officials encompassed about 400 homes. No fire or explosion broke out at the site, and the well has since been stabilized. The evacuation order was lifted early Wednesday as well.

McCorkle said some sort of mechanical malfunction at the wellhead caused dry gas to leak. No fluids or flames were visible at the time, she said, but the company acted quickly to shut off all ignition sources such as lights and generators before contacting emergency responders. Halliburton well control affiliate Boots & Coots was called in to stabilize the well, McCorkle added. 

The cause of the incident was still unclear Wednesday, and McCorkle said it would likely be a few days before it is determined. American Energy will soon conduct downhole testing to see if the well can be salvaged, she said.

Jefferson County Commissioner Thomas Graham told NGI's Shale Daily that there was an overnight accident at a well site in the area but added that he knew little more than that.

Jefferson County Emergency Management officials reached on Wednesday said personnel who responded to the incident with knowledge of what exactly happened were unavailable to comment after a long night on scene at the sight of the well, which the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department said was located in Cross Creek Township at the center of the county.

ODNR has issued 46 horizontal permits in Jefferson County. Only three of those have been issued in Cross Creek to American Energy, where state records indicate two are in production. Graham said American Energy likely acquired the acreage from Hess Corp. when it sold 74,000 acres in the Utica Shale earlier this year (see Shale DailyJan 30).

He added that commissioners have been told that the gathering system in the area is overburdened with wells and plans were in the works to expand its capabilities.

The incident was the latest in a series of others that have recently occurred in the state. Last Friday, a small local newspaper in southeast Ohio reported that an explosion at an Eclipse Resources Corp. site in Guernsey County, OH, sent one worker to the hospital with serious injuries. McCorkle said Wednesday that no information on that incident was immediately available.

Early Tuesday, a stretch of eight-inch condensate pipeline in Monroe County, OH, serving Dominion Transmission's Natrium Processing and Fractionation facility in West Virginia ruptured and caught fire before eventually burning itself out, according to several reports. Although there were no injuries, the fire reportedly burned several acres of woodland.

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