CREDIT: AP Photo/James MacPherson, File
Twenty-five families in eastern Ohio have been unable to return to their homes for the last three days due to a natural gas leak at a nearby fracking well.
Households within a 1.5-mile radius of the well were evacuated this week after the well started leaking Saturday. Oil and gas workers weren’t able to control the leak, which is continuing to emit gas into the atmosphere. The well, which is owned by Texas-based company Triad Hunter, had been plugged about a year ago, but started leaking when workers restarted operations on it.
“Despite numerous precautionary measures taken in connection with the temporary plugging and abandonment operation, the well began to flow uncontrollably while recommencing production operations,” the company said in a statement.
Families have been allowed back into their homes during the day, but haven’t had access to them at night.
Bethany McCorkle, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, told the Columbus Dispatch that leaks like this aren’t common.
“This whole situation is uncommon in general,” she said. “A full investigation will give us more information as to what happened, what led up to the incident and why there was so much pressure.”
Right now, the well isn’t on fire, but the gas leak does pose an explosion risk. Earlier this year, a leaking natural gas well owned by Chevron caught fire in Pennsylvania, killing one contract worker. And last year, a gas well off the coast of Louisiana caught fire.
This also isn’t the first time that Ohio residents have been forced to evacuate as a result of a natural gas leak. In October, about 400 households were evacuated after a fracking operation in eastern Ohio began leaking gas. That evacuation didn’t last long, however — the leak began at about 6 p.m. and residents were allowed back into their homes around midnight. Some residents in Morgan County, Ohio were also forced to evacuate in May due to a natural gas and oil leak.
These evacuations have made some in Ohio wary about the fracking boom, saying it poses too many risks to communities.
“It’s powerfully toxic if it gets in your community and neighborhood and you’re breathing it,” Carolyn Harding, an anti-fracking activist in Ohio, said of natural gas in October. “I’m not afraid of it. What I am afraid of is that we are going to embrace it so fast, so furiously that we will create too many sacrifice zones.”
Leaking wells aren’t just a concern for communities who live close to them. They’re also a major concern for the climate, as methane — a gas that’s been found to be leaking from up to 40 percent of gas wells in some parts of Pennsylvania — acts as a potent greenhouse gas. In May, Cornell professor Robert Howarth said in a statement that, if the U.S. doesn’t take steps to curb methane emissions from oil and gas development, that failure to act could have catastrophic consequences.
“We have to control methane immediately, and natural gas is the largest methane pollution source in the United States,” Howarth said. “If we hit a climate-system tipping point because of methane, our carbon dioxide problem is immaterial. We have to get a handle on methane, or increasingly risk global catastrophe.”