A large fire Wednesday at a Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling operation in North Strabane Township was believed to have been caused by a machinery malfunction in a building on the well pad, the state Department of Environmental Protection said.
The flames and smoke at the Range Resources’ Jeffries Elisabeth pad on Ross Road startled neighbors and required tanker trucks from as far away as the Mon Valley to supply water to firefighters.
“There were flames dancing right up the rig,” said Matthew Rettinger, who lives near the well site. “It covered the whole sky in black.”
No one was injured during the fire, a spokesman for the Washington County Department of Public Safety said near the scene of the fire.
The DEP dispatched two emergency responders and inspectors to the well pad at 257 Ross Road, said John Poister, the department’s spokesman in Pittsburgh.
“It was not a situation where the well itself was on fire,” Poister said about 7:20 p.m., after the fire was declared extinguished.
He said it appeared the fire started about 5:45 p.m. when oil that leaked from machinery caught fire and the flames spread to plastic sheeting used on the well pad.
“We still need to work with Range to determine exactly what happened,” Poister said. “The company has a pretty good fire protocol.”
Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella said the Southpointe-based company was “assessing the situation and working with local first responders to ensure the matter is safely managed.”
“The crews used a specialty foam designed to extinguish oil and grease fires,” he said.
“These investigations can take weeks or months in some instances to fully recognize what exactly occurred,” Pitzarella said.
“We very much understand, respect and appreciate the concerns that issues such as this may cause for nearby homes and Range (was) meeting with area residents to explain what happened and to assist them with any issues this unfortunate matter may have caused,” Pitzarella added.
A reporter was told to leave the area near the well pad access road by a company security official shortly before 7 p.m.
“You’re actually trespassing,” he said.
North Strabane supervisors unanimously approved the pad Sept. 23 and added 18 conditions to the permit, one of which mandated the company to “identify a senior corporate Range representative” to become the contact person in case of an emergency.
The well pad, located on 16.5 acres of land owned by Elisabeth Jeffries, was the second to be approved in the township. Construction began on the well pad in January.
Township Supervisor Sonia Stopperich praised the local fire departments and county public safety crews for doing an “excellent job” to control the scene and extinguish the fire. She voted to approve the well pad last September, but said she wants to review the incident before coming to any conclusions about the fire.
“It doesn’t make me second guess it, but once we have a full report, I’d like to review it before I make any other decisions,” Stopperich said.