A natural gas well targeting the Marcellus Shale near Moundsville, WV, which was the site of an explosion Monday that sent seven drilling company employees to a hospital, could be capped in about three days, according to Chief Oil & Gas LLC.

“Well control specialists that arrived [Monday] have already started moving out some of the [damaged] equipment and they’ll move in additional equipment to help them dismantle the rig and remove that from the drilling site,” Chief Oil & Gas spokesman Kristi Gittins told NGI. “Once they remove that equipment they’ll cap the well.”

Chief Oil & Gas is a participant in the well and is responsible for drilling and completing the well, which is owned and operated by Brecksville, OH-based AB Resources, Gittins said.

The explosion occurred about 1 a.m. Monday about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh (see Daily GPI, June 8). Fort Worth, TX-based Union Drilling Inc. was operating a rig when it apparently hit an inactive coal mine shaft, igniting methane gas that had collected there, according to a spokesperson for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP). Initial reports indicated that the drilling had progressed a little more than 1,000 feet when the explosion occurred.

Flames that had reportedly been shooting 50-75 feet into the air Monday were reduced to a low-pressure flare at the well site by Tuesday, Gittins said.

“Pretty early yesterday the area was secured and safe. The incident was contained to the drilling site area…the perimeter was pretty much untouched,” she said.

Of the seven injured workers, two were released from the hospital Monday and three more were released Tuesday, Gittins said.

The WVDEP continues to monitor the situation and has begun a preliminary investigation, WVDEP spokesperson Kathy Cosco told NGI Tuesday. “Our inspectors are refraining from speculating on what ignited the flame until we can obtain further information,” she said.

Chief Oil & Gas has 15 gas wells in West Virginia and has experienced no major incidents in 10 years of drilling in the Marcellus, Gittins said. Last year privately held Chief and Canada’s Enerplus Resources Fund agreed to help develop half a million acres in the Marcellus, most of it in Pennsylvania, with some spillover into West Virginia and Maryland (see Daily GPI, Aug. 21, 2009).

Dallas-based Chief was the No. 2 natural gas producer in the Barnett Shale until it sold its leasehold to Devon Energy Corp. for $2.2 billion four years ago (see Daily GPI, June 30, 2006).

The Moundsville explosion was one of two drilling accidents in the Marcellus in the past week. A blowout last Thursday at an EOG Resources Inc. well in Clearfield County, PA, prompted the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to order on Monday that the company suspend all of its natural gas well drilling activities in the state. The order prohibits EOG from drilling activities for up to seven days, from engaging in fracing operations for up to 14 days and from completing or initiating post-fracing operations for 30 days in any wells in the state, and none of the activities may resume until DEP has completed a comprehensive investigation of the incident and EOG has implemented any required changes.

EOG, which operates approximately 265 active wells in Pennsylvania, 117 of them in the Marcellus Shale formation, said Monday it is cooperating with DEP and has voluntarily suspended operations in the state.

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