City officials in Hutchinson, KS continue their investigationafter a suspected leaking natural gas storage cavern caused twoexplosions in mid-January, leveling businesses and killing one manand injuring his wife.

The cavern was sealed last Monday (Jan. 22) and now experts aretrying to determine how to vent a huge gas bubble still spewingthrough geysers all over town. Though not conclusive, officialsthink the explosions were caused by a natural gas pipe leak at theYaggy Field storage facility, seven miles northwest of Hutchinsonand operated by Kansas Gas Service, a subsidiary of ONEOK, based inTulsa. 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 guttedanother, and in the aftermath, fire officials found water and gasgeysers erupting throughout the city. Residents were temporarilyevacuated, but they were returned to their homes that day. Thefollowing day (Jan. 18), another blast ripped into a trailer home,killing one man and injuring his wife. Hundreds of residents livingin and around the mobile home park were evacuated, and the policedepartment is unsure when all of them may return to their homes.

A meeting was scheduled yesterday (Jan. 28) between cityofficials and those who have been forced to relocate. Kansas Gashave 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 theoriginal leak. Now, geologists are trying to figure out how to ventthe gas bubble that continues to spew through geysers there.

Under Kansas Gas’ direction, drilling is under way on four deepvent wells planned around the town, even while the KansasDepartment of Health and Environment (KDHE) determines whether touncap some of the 150-to-300 abandoned wells to release trappedgas. KDHE also is searching for other sources that might be feedingan underground gas plume, which they believe was traveling throughthe soil into Hutchinson and then exiting through abandoned anduncapped brine wells.

Nine of the wells from which geysers were apparent are in openareas, but officials believe the two explosions resulted from gasexiting through wells under or near an ignition source. The KansasCorporation Commission now is researching the location of old minesin the area.

Carolyn Davis, Houston

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