‘Flash fire’ being investigated

MIDDLEBOURNE – As officials with Magnum Hunter Resources celebrate drilling their first Ohio Utica Shale well, they continue investigating a Tyler County “flash fire” that burned three workers Thursday evening.

“We are very anxious to see what led up to this event,” said Dan McCormick, senior vice president for Eureka Hunter, a subsidiary of Houston, Texas-based Magnum Hunter.

The injured workers were taken to the West Penn Burn Center in Pittsburgh for serious burn injuries. Neither McCormick nor Tyler County Emergency Management Director Tom Cooper had any updates on their conditions Friday. The workers’ names were unavailable.

McCormick and Cooper said a fourth person was taken to Sistersville General Hospital for evaluation, but this worker was later released.

Eureka Hunter serves as Magnum Hunter’s natural gas pipeline subsidiary, while Triad Hunter is another Magnum subsidiary that drills and fracks wells. Eureka transports the gas extracted from the Triad wellheads.

Cooper said late Thursday he would consider the event near the small town of Wick an “explosion,” but McCormick termed it a “flash fire.” McCormick also said the incident did not occur at a compressor station as initially reported. Instead, he said the site is known in the drilling industry as a “pig receiving station” along the pipeline. The “pig” is a device used to clean out pipelines.

“This is standard procedure for removing the accumulated liquids,” McCormick said, noting that this particular line carried methane as well as natural gas liquids such as ethane, propane and butane from the wellhead.

Initial reports indicated the fire was fueled by NGLs that ignited in tanks during the pipeline pigging operations, but it was limited to above-ground facilities. He said company representatives and officials with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration spent Friday investigating the cause of the flash fire.

Cooper said the Tyler County Sheriff’s Department will investigate the incident, noting it took place in a remote area. McCormick said the pipeline did not rupture and seems unaffected by the fire.

Fire units from Shirley, Alma, Middlebourne and Sistersville, as well as from St. Marys in Pleasants County and Paden City in Wetzel County, responded to the scene. McCormick thanked the firefighters for their swift response in handling the blaze.

As a precaution, a portion of the Eureka pipeline system was shut down. It will be re-activated once officials deem it safe. During this shutdown, Triad’s daily production is expected to fall by about the equivalent of 2,170 barrels of oil a day.

McCormick stressed that the involved pipeline does not transport crude oil. The barrels of oil equivalent per day is a calculation used by the industry to determine how much methane, propane, butane, ethane and other hydrocarbons flow through the pipeline.

West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Kathy Cosco said her agency is not involved in the investigation because no leak was reported. In fact, she said workers at the DEP only learned of the incident by reading about it in The Intelligencer.

While Magnum Hunter deals with this flash fire investigation in West Virginia, company Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer Gary C. Evans announced Friday that the company is now drilling its first Ohio Utica Shale well in northern Washington County along the Noble County border. The development plan is to first drill a vertical pilot hole for extensive analysis. Officials will then drill a more than 6,000-foot horizontal leg before fracking can begin in the summer.

“While this new well currently drilling represents our first horizontal Utica Shale test in Ohio, we have three other horizontal wells already drilled in the Marcellus (Shale) formation located nearby in Monroe County,” Evans said, noting these Monroe County wells are waiting for fracking.

“We believe our activities in southeastern Ohio will have significant economic impact on our company in the ensuing months. We continue to assemble mineral acreage in the region to increase our inventory and foothold position,” he added.