A natural gas leak from a Rager Mountain storage facility in Western Pennsylvania was reported on November 6th, and since its discovery, the well has vented massive amounts of methane into the atmosphere over the course of 11 days.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the size of the leak is estimated at around 100 million cubic feet of methane per day, or approximately 1.1 billion cf over 11 days, the total equivalent of burning 1,080 rail cars full of coal.
A Bloomberg analysis calculated the total range of the leak as 5,800 to 20,300 metric tons of methane, making the incident one of the largest releases of methane in the US over the past few years.
Equitrans Midstream, the owner of the well at the Rager Mountain facility, has been working to address the problem. A written statement from Equitrans spokeswoman Natalie Cox said “there are no immediate public safety concerns,” and the company has been working in tandem with a specialty well service company to stop the leak. Cox also noted that the initial estimate of 100 million cf of leaking methane per day is a preliminary one, and Equitrans is unable to provide a more accurate number until an inventory verification survey is conducted.
The gas was leaking from a vent designed to prevent blowouts, relieving intense pressures building up in the well. The company announced that the leak had been stopped on November 17th after workers flooded the well, but the hiss of venting gas was reported the next day.
The flow of gas ultimately ceased on November 19th. To prevent gas from venting out, two temporary bridge plugs were installed, followed by more than 250 feet of concrete pumped into the wellbore above the plugs. The company has since received agency approvals to flow gas out of the 4 wells they own at Rager Mountain with the intention to relieve pressure.
Equitrans said the company is “conducting a comprehensive review of all storage wells at Rager Mountain,” and federal regulators are undergoing an investigation surrounding the recent leak to determine the cause and whether enforcement action is necessary. Equitrans said it is coordinating all post-incident activities with the DEP as well as the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), an arm of the US Department of Transportation.
Environmental regulators from Pennsylvania’s DEP issued the company five citations for potential violations of state law. The citations include failures to properly maintain and operate the gas facility, creating a public nuisance, and producing a “hazard to public health and safety.”
The company was also cited for failing to provide state inspectors “free and unrestricted access.” According to DEP spokeswoman Lauren Camarda, members of a state emergency response team were initially barred from entering when they arrived at the scene on November 8th and were told “access was restricted to critical personnel only.” Cox said that Equitrans contractors were still implementing a safety boundary (to avoid introducing potential ignition sources) when the state team first arrived.
Located less than 2 miles east of Pittsburgh, the leaking well negatively affected the locals in the area. Residents as far as 4 miles away from the site told the Associated Press that they could hear the roar of pressurized gas venting from the well and could smell the “rotten egg” fumes from the leak.
Tracey Ryan, 39, says she could smell the sulfurous odor from her house 3 miles away, and the noise kept her from getting rest. “When you’re laying in bed at night, it sounds like a jet plane taking off,” said the mother, who homeschools her two children. “It’s unreal, the noise that’s coming, and it’s constant. … Everybody just keeps telling us we’re safe. But it doesn’t feel safe if you can hear it and smell it.”
Edana Glessner runs a wedding venue 3.6 miles away from the facility, and she claimed the smell made her nauseous and affected her business. “You could hear it during the last wedding we had,” said Glessner. “And it smelled, but everybody was OK with it. We said we’re really sorry.”
Now that the leak is stopped and investigations are underway, residents can finally rest easy and breathe again.