Massive Leak at Gas Storage Area in Western PA

The Rager Mountain Gas Storage Area leak in Cambria County is proving difficult to stop, while bringing worrisome comparisons to the Aliso Canyon and Powhatan Point incidents, where huge volumes of methane reached the atmosphere. Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

Left: Methane plume from the leak captured by the Sentinel-2 satellite on 9 November 2022 (data processed by UNEP/IMEO), courtesy Environmental Defense Fund)
Right: Pa. Department of Environmental Protection photo of the leak at the Rager Mountain Gas Storage Area during its investigation.

The company reported “a preliminary, conservative estimate” that the well was losing 100 million cubic feet a day. It is the same rate of gas flow for a 2018 incident in which a well in Belmont County, Ohio, blew out, and it is higher than the rate of loss from the 2015 methane leak at the Aliso Canyon gas storage site near Los Angeles, the largest methane accident in US history.
Reid Frazier reports further in StateImpact Pennsylvania on November 18, 2022:

Equitrans says it doesn’t know what caused the leak. Residents near the site were warned about the leak, but there were no evacuations. A no-fly zone was established within one mile of the site, north of Johnstown, according to the PA DEP. According to a report filed by the DEP, agency inspectors arrived at the site on Nov. 7, and wrote that the “uncontrolled release from the well was ongoing.”
The inspection report noted the company was issued four violations, including one for venting “gas to the atmosphere that produced a hazard to the public health and safety,” and that the company had retained a well control service company that would try to stop, or “kill” the well with brine. The company stores about 9 billion cubic feet of gas at the site, which includes 10 storage wells and two observational wells.

Reid Frazier | StateImpact Pennsylvania | November 18, 2022

Photo of the 2018 Powhatan Point, Belmont County, Ohio XTO Blowout from just outside the ‘no fly’ zone on February 28, 2018. MARCELLUS AIR

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Report on the ‘Schnegg B Pad’ Blowout in Powhatan Point, Belmont County, Ohio:

PA Environment Digest Blog

Efforts To Stop A Natural Gas Leak For The Last 12 Days At A Cambria County Underground Gas Storage Area Have Failed, Gas Is Again Escaping
By David E. Hess | November 18, 2022

On November 18, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported efforts to stop a natural gas leak at the Rager Mountain Gas Storage Area in Jackson Township, Cambria County have failed.  

Company officials said they had stopped the venting at 12:15 p.m. on November 17, but residents near the facility are again reporting the roaring noise of a leak along with the odor of gas.

The leak was first discovered at 3:30 p.m. on November 6 and according to the company about 100 million cubic feet of natural gas per day was escaping from the facility.

An estimated 1.1 billion cubic feet of natural gas has been released into the atmosphere, but a more accurate number will not be available until an inventory verification study is completed, according to The Allegheny Front.

A specialized company hired by Equitrans LP attempted to stop the leak by pumping heavy liquid into the wellbore to stop the gas flow.

DEP has so far issued five notices of violation to the company, including failure to provide initial access to the incident site, venting gas into the atmosphere and for failure to operate a gas storage well to maintain its integrity.

The well is a conventional gas well that was first drilled in 1965, according to DEP inspection reports.

Click Here to find the location on Google Maps(Courtesy of Bob Donnan’s Blog.)

Background

On November 6, Equitrans LP said they were notified of the leak at approximately 3:30 p.m. and their technicians arrived on site about 4:15 p.m. to find natural gas venting from storage well 2244.  Read more here.

Residents living in the area were alerted to the leak by a very loud hissing or roaring sound and the odor of natural gas.  Residents continued to report smelling natural gas and complain of headaches and other health symptoms, according to media reports.

A safety perimeter was established and, in line with safety protocols, the local fire department also responded to the incident. 

The storage well is one of 10 operating storage wells and two observation wells located at the Rager facility, according to the company.  

After being notified of the incident, Equitrans LP said they immediately notified the National Response Center, the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, and the Department of Environmental Protection, and made a courtesy call to the PA Public Utility Commission. 

Equitrans LP also notified nearby residents within an approximately two-mile radius of the facility and local township supervisors to advise them of the situation and established a community hotline– 888-574-6944– for local residents to get general updates about the gas leak.

A November 7 DEP inspection report #3453319 said, “The well operator had lost control of the George L Reade 1 storage well and gas was escaping from the 4.5×7 annulus.”

The annulus of a well is the space between the inner and outer casing or piping of the well.

According to DEP inspection reports, the storage wells were maintained at a pressure of from 2,800 to just over 3,000 pounds per square inch.

The same report said at approximately 8:30 a.m. DEP inspector Justin Najewicz was denied access to the incident area “to witness the leaking well” because Equitrans LP said it was “restricted to critical personnel only.”   

The report notes DEP issued Equitrans LP a notice of violation for “failure to provide free and unrestricted access” to the site.

In its first statement on the incident November 7, DEP said it will maintain a 24/7 presence on site until the situation is under control.  Read more here.

A November 8 DEP inspection report #3454383 noted at approximately 4:21 p.m.– about eight hours later on November 7, DEP inspectors were granted access to the incident area and said the uncontrolled release of gas was “ongoing.”

In the November 8 inspection report, DEP noted four major violations–

— Failure of the operator to construct and operate the well to ensure its integrity is maintain to protect health, safety, environment and property;

–Venting gas to the atmosphere that produced a hazard to public health and safety;

— Failure to operate and maintain the storage reservoir and its facilities as required; and

— Conducting a drilling or production activity in a manner that creates a public nuisance or adversely affects public health, safety, welfare or the environment.

Other DEP inspections reports show the agency inspected other wells that were part of the Rager Mountain Gas Storage Area as part of its incident response between November 7 and 9.

These and other inspection reports are available in DEP’s Inspection Report Viewer Database under operator Equitrans LP.

As part of its initial response, the Department of Environmental Protection requested Equitrans LP to do air quality monitoring in the area and conduct a gas mitigation investigation.  DEP also said they ordered a temporary flight restriction in the area.  Read more here.

‘No Fly’ zone in red circle on pilot’s app November 19, 2022:

On November 8, Equitrans LP said equipment arrived on site that was needed to prepare to shut down the flow of gas. They were also working to redirect the flow of gas away from the immediate area where the work will take place to stop the venting.  Read more here.

On November 9, procedures to halt the venting of gas were unexpectedly delayed due to a change in wind conditions, which required a relocation of the on-site equipment to ensure safe operations. 

On November 10, all equipment was secured in position and activities to prepare and test the equipment for operations were completed.  Crews also successfully installed tubing to redirect the flow of gas away from the immediate vicinity of the storage wellhead where equipment will be utilized to stop the gas flow.

On November 11, efforts to halt the venting began, however, an obstruction was encountered in the wellbore, according to the company. Crews began work to identify the obstruction through the use of downhole cameras, and these efforts concluded on Sunday. 

Activities to remove the obstruction started on November 14 and were reported to be successful on Monday afternoon, Equitrans LP reported.

Equitrans LP also said it received agency approvals to begin withdrawing natural gas from four select storage wells at the Rager Mountain facility, and this work has been effective in reducing overall pressures in the storage field. 

The company said generally, physical flows of natural gas in/out of the Rager Mountain Storage facility remain temporarily suspended and, at present, there is no estimate for when the facility will return to full service.

Image: “As of December 31, 2021, Equitrans Midstream’s transmission and storage system included approximately 950 miles of FERC-regulated, interstate pipelines that have interconnect points to seven interstate pipelines and multiple local distribution companies. Additionally, the transmission and storage system was supported by 43 compressor units, with total throughput capacity of approximately 4.4 Bcf per day and compression of approximately 136,000 horsepower; and 18 associated natural gas storage reservoirs, which had a peak withdrawal capacity of approximately 850 MMcf per day and a working gas capacity of approximately 43 Bcf. In 2021, Equitrans’ transmission operations transmitted a daily average of 2.971 Bcf. Transmission also includes Equitrans Midstream’s investment, through EQM Midstream Partners, in the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), MVP Southgate projects, and other expansion projects. See our Projects page for more information.” Source

Reaction

In response to the natural gas leak at the Rager Mountain facility, PennEnvironment issued this statement–

“For Pennsylvania to do its part to tackle climate change, it must act swiftly and aggressively to rein in polluters who emit methane and other global warming pollutants. Methane is a scourge wherever people drill for oil and gas and leaks are an inevitable byproduct.”

PennEnvironment Executive Director David Masur

“For Pennsylvania to do its part to tackle climate change, it must act swiftly and aggressively to rein in polluters who emit methane and other global warming pollutants,” Executive Director David Masur said. “Methane is a scourge wherever people drill for oil and gas and leaks are an inevitable byproduct.

“Pervasive fracking across Pennsylvania means that dangerous leaks, which can come during the fracking process itself, transport or storage — apparently, the case in Cambria County — pose constant threats to our health and environment. Fracking can taint our drinking water, pollute rivers and streams, contaminate public lands and subject Pennsylvanians to hazardous waste.”

“For now, we need Pennsylvania’s DEP and the federal Environmental Protection Agency to crack down on violators of our emissions regulations. Moving forward, the only long-term solution is to end fracking in the Keystone State. It’s long past time to end our antiquated reliance on fossil fuels, and transition our state to power generated by clean, renewable sources such as wind and solar.”

PA Gas Storage Fields

Pennsylvania has 51 active underground natural gas storage fields regulated by the Department of Environmental Protection.

The majority of the fields are contained within depleted hydrocarbon reservoirs (host rocks, typically sandstones, in which the economic oil and/or natural gas has been removed). As such, these locations coincide with historical oil and gas production, which is predominantly in the western half of Pennsylvania.

Google Map showing coordinates of well from DEP inspection report.

Click Here for a DEP factsheet on natural gas storage fields.

NewsClips:

— Post-Gazette – Anya Litvak: An Attempt To Stop A Leaking Natural Gas Storage Well In Cambria County Has Failed, Venting Has Resumed

— Post-Gazette – Anya Litvak: Leaking Cambria County Natural Gas Storage Well Has Been Tamed, But Questions Remain

— The Allegheny Front: Natural Gas Lake At Underground Storage Site In Cambria County Stopped After 11 Days

— WJAC – McKenzie Jarrell: DEP Orders Gas Company To Monitor Air Quality In Area Of Leak

— WJAC – McKenzie Jarrell: Progress With Jackson Twp. Natural Gas Leak

— ABC23: Dishong Mountain Natural Gas Leak Update

— Tribune-Democrat: Operations At Natural Gas Storage Facility Temporarily Suspended After Leak

[Posted: November 18, 2022]  PA Environment Digest

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UPDATES:

Gas flow resumes from Equitrans Pennsylvania site after November leak
December 2, 2022 – Equitrans Midstream Corp on Friday said it has received agency approvals to flow gas out of the Rager Mountain storage facility in Pennsylvania following a November natural gas leak that lasted for several days. The site began flowing gas on Thursday, a day after it was approved, Equitrans said in an emailed response, adding it will continue to obtain the most accurate estimate of the leak that started November 6, 2022.

DEP Has Ordered A ‘Top To Bottom Review’ Of How It Regulates Underground Natural Gas Storage Areas As A Result Of The Equitrans Gas Leak In Cambria County In November
December 1, 2022 – On December 1, Kurt Klapkowski, Acting Deputy Secretary for Oil and Gas Management, said he has ordered a “top to bottom review” of how DEP regulates underground natural gas storage areas as a result of the leak of 1 billion cubic feet of gas from the Equitrans Rager Mountain Gas Storage Area in Cambria County November 6 to 20. He made the comments to members of DEP’s Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board at a December 1 meeting. “I’ve basically instructed staff that we should be doing a top-to-bottom review of the gas storage program,” said Klapkowski. He said the evaluation will include not only the storage areas themselves, but also closely related issues like regulating coal mining over and near gas storage facilities. “What is probably going to come out of this incident in 2023 will be significant development of potential proposed rule makings, potential proposed statutory changes, potential proposed administrative implementation changes,” said Klapkowski.

Company: Leak at Pennsylvania gas storage well plugged
November 20, 2022 – The well had been venting about 100 million cubic feet of natural gas per day since Nov. 6, according to initial estimates. If accurate, that would total more than 1.4 billion cubic feet in methane, equal to the greenhouse gas emissions from burning more than 7,200 tanker trucks of gasoline. More than 250 feet of cement was pumped into the wellbore above two plugs to ensure venting does not recur, the company said. The leak came as the Environmental Protection Agency on Nov. 11 updated proposed new rules intended to cut methane and other harmful emissions from oil and gas operations.

Equitrans storage well plugged with cement, company says, capping a two-week leak
November 20, 2022 – Equitrans Midstream Corp. announced on Sunday that it has stopped the gas venting from a natural gas storage well in Cambria County and pumped cement down the wellbore to keep it from restarting. Equitrans started flowing gas from four other wells to relieve the pressure while its contractors, Cudd Well Control, worked to get control of the troubled well. Several attempts had failed. On Saturday, Equitrans said Cudd was able to flood the well with heavy liquid and set a plug. On Sunday, it set a second plug and pumped 250 feet of cement after it to keep the seal.

Another attempt to kill leaking Cambria County storage field planned Saturday
November 19, 2022 – It’s been two weeks since an Equitrans Midstream Corp. storage well began venting large volumes of methane in Cambria County. Several attempts to “kill the well” by pumping heavy liquid from the top of the wellbore have failed. The Canonsburg-based company said its contractors made another effort Saturday and appear to have “successfully flooded the well, stopped the flow of gas, and immediately began plugging procedures.” It’s still not known what caused the well to lose pressure and start venting an estimated 100 million cubic feet of natural gas per day. If the preliminary leak rate estimate is accurate, the company has already lost about $10 million in the value of gas alone — not counting the expense of trying to control the well, the disruption to operations during the beginning of cold weather season, and whatever penalties might follow.

In Other News:

Allegheny Township approves natural gas fracking deal beneath the Tredway Trail
Allegheny Township, Westmoreland County, PA supervisors are pumping up the township coffers with approval of an oil and gas lease with Olympus Energy. The “nonsurface lease” approved unanimously by the township’s three supervisors is for 27.7 acres of the Tredway Trail [Google maps link]. The agreement calls for Olympus to pay the township $2,200 per acre upfront, which totals $60,940. In addition, the township will receive a royalty of 16.5% on the value of the gas extracted. The gas well involved with the lease actually was drilled in Upper Burrell, but it draws underground natural gas that is in Allegheny Township.

Freeport LNG targets mid-December restart for Texas export plant
Nov 18 (Reuters) – U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) company Freeport LNG said it was targeting a mid-December restart for its Texas export plant, which has been shut for six months after a fire, pending regulatory approval. Freeport, the second-biggest U.S. LNG export facility, closed in June after an explosion that energy consultants said was the result of human error, inadequate operating and testing procedures and other factors. Its start-up will not commence until the plans are approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). The United States is currently liquefying about 12 bcfd of gas into LNG for export at the country’s six other big LNG export plants, according to data from Refinitiv. Federal pipeline safety regulators released a heavily redacted consultant’s report this week that blamed inadequate operating and testing procedures, human error and fatigue for the June 8 explosion.
PDF of Redacted Report: https://www.phmsa.dot.gov/sites/phmsa.dot.gov/files/2022-11/IFO-Group-RCFA-Report-final-redacted.pdf

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