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Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

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Three weeks later, Chesapeake resumes fracking

Written by Scott Detrow, StateImpact Pennsylvania Reporter | May 13, 2011 11:56 PM

Chesapeake Energy is resuming hydraulic fracturing and other completion operations at its Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale wells.

The company halted drilling at its 105  sites, after a malfunction at Bradford County well on April 19th led to an extended leak of fracking fluid. Thousands of gallons spilled over a two-day time span, though both the company and the Department of Environmental Protection say impact on nearby waterways was minimal. In a release issued Friday afternoon, Chesapeake blamed the spill on a rare technical glitch. “During the [well completion] process, a failure occurred at a valve flange connection to the wellhead, causing fluid to be discharged from the wellhead at high pressure,” the statement read.  “An equipment failure of this type is extremely rare in the industry and is the first valve flange failure of this magnitude in more than 15,000 wells Chesapeake has completed since its founding in 1989.”

At the time of the spill, both Chesapeake and the Corbett Administration said the moratorium was voluntary. But the company needed DEP’s permission to resume operations, according to department spokeswoman Katy Gresh. “The deal was that DEP needed to be satisfied with the assurances that Chesapeake provided us before we could authorize them to frack again. And we authorized that today because we are satisfied,” she explained. “In particular, Chesapeake has committed to, in the event they experience a well control incident anywhere in the commonwealth in the future, they will utilize local well control responders. And that was a huge piece that DEP insisted upon.” In April, Chesapeake flew in people from a Texas-based company called “Boots and Coots.”

Chesapeake inspected similar wellheads during its moratorium. “Every wellhead in the review was disassembled, components were studied and pressure tested and reassembled,” the company said. “We are confident that this was an isolated incident and that all wellhead equipment and connections are fully functional and structurally sound. For future operations, Chesapeake has implemented changes in its oversight of the contractors that assemble and test our wellheads. Certification of contract employees will be reviewed more thoroughly and more-extensive documentation for all phases of pressure testing and equipment calibration will be required. In addition to these steps, we are instituting an independent auditing system to serve as an extra layer of oversight in wellhead assembly.”

Company Vice President John K. Reinhart sounded a contrite note in the statement, saying, ““We regret this incident and the inconvenience it has caused to our neighbors and the community. …We understand that operating in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a privilege. We have learned from this and have taken steps to mitigate the risk of this type of event happening in the future.”

The company -- one of the largest drillers in Pennsylvania – has experienced several high-profile accidents. A February fire at one of Chesapeake’s Washington County wells led Governor Corbett to remove its representative from his Marcellus Shale Commission.

Published in State House Sound Bites

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