Gas Storage Field Erupts Under Hutchinson, Kansas

City officials in Hutchinson, KS continue their investigation after a suspected leaking natural gas storage cavern caused two explosions in mid-January, leveling businesses and killing one man and injuring his wife.

The cavern was sealed last Monday (Jan. 22) and now experts are trying to determine how to vent a huge gas bubble still spewing through geysers all over town. Though not conclusive, officials think the explosions were caused by a natural gas pipe leak at the Yaggy Field storage facility, seven miles northwest of Hutchinson and operated by Kansas Gas Service, a subsidiary of ONEOK, based in Tulsa. The cavern is one of about 160 that make up the Yaggy Field, which has a combined storage capacity of 3.2 Bcf.

The first explosion leveled a downtown business and gutted another, and in the aftermath, fire officials found water and gas geysers erupting throughout the city. Residents were temporarily evacuated, but they were returned to their homes that day. The following day (Jan. 18), another blast ripped into a trailer home, killing one man and injuring his wife. Hundreds of residents living in and around the mobile home park were evacuated, and the police department is unsure when all of them may return to their homes.

A meeting was scheduled yesterday (Jan. 28) between city officials and those who have been forced to relocate. Kansas Gas have plugged the pipe, which is about 550 feet below the surface, and two other gas leaks also were fixed last week, but apparently, they were the result of gas line breaks and not connected to the original leak. Now, geologists are trying to figure out how to vent the gas bubble that continues to spew through geysers there.

Under Kansas Gas' direction, drilling is under way on four deep vent wells planned around the town, even while the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) determines whether to uncap some of the 150-to-300 abandoned wells to release trapped gas. KDHE also is searching for other sources that might be feeding an underground gas plume, which they believe was traveling through the soil into Hutchinson and then exiting through abandoned and uncapped brine wells.

Nine of the wells from which geysers were apparent are in open areas, but officials believe the two explosions resulted from gas exiting through wells under or near an ignition source. The Kansas Corporation Commission now is researching the location of old mines in the area.

Carolyn Davis, Houston

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