The release Wednesday in Dimrock Township, PA, of an estimated 8,500 gallons of a gel used to fracture natural gas shale has been contained, according to Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) officials.

According to officials, the incident occurred when oil services provider Halliburton was using hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracing) to release gas in one of Cabot Oil & Gas Corp.’s Marcellus Shale wells. A pipe apparently operated by contractor Baker Tank came loose and released the gel, which is used in the hydrofrac process.

The substance, spilled at the Heitsman well site (see Daily GPI, Sept. 18), affected a shallow wetland, said a spokesperson for Cabot, which operates the site. The substance also may have entered Stevens Creek, and state officials were sampling the area to see if private water supplies were affected.

DEP said the gel is considered “relatively innocuous,” but it has the potential to cause eye, skin and respiratory irritations. The gel, used to suspend sand particles in hydrofracing fluid, is said to be made of paraffinic material, or polysaccharides, which is similar to starch and wax.

DEP and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission officials Wednesday and Thursday observed the cleanup, which apparently contained the material using vacuum trucks, a DEP spokesman told NGI.

The spill of a gel used in hydrofracing could not have come at a more inopportune time as Capitol Hill lawmakers are seeking to regulate hydraulic fracturing at the federal level. Bills have been introduced in the House and Senate that seek to repeal the Safe Drinking Water Act exemption for hydrofracing activities of the oil and natural gas industry (see Daily GPI, June 10, June 22). The spill also comes two months after the Environmental Protection Agency reported at least three contaminated water wells near Pavillion, WY, containing a hydrofracing chemical used by natural gas drillers. Traces of other contaminants, including gas, oil and metals, were reportedly found in 11 of 39 wells tested since March in the Wind River Basin area (see Daily GPI, Aug. 28). These incidents, when taken together, are likely to fuel the debate on hydrofracing legislation when Congress gets around to it.

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