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Responders learn from gas well drilling experts

Monday, January 10, 2011
By Terry Whetstone Staff Writer
Firefighters, emergency medical services personnel, emergency management coordinators and police officers attended two classes during the weekend, the first in Clearfield on Saturday at the 911 Center and the second in DuBois on Sunday at the fire training center. The classes, sponsored by EOG Resources Inc. and hosted by Mike Wolford of Wild Well Control of Texas, taught participants what to do if a gas well begins to leak or catches on fire.

Wolford had Robert Dysart, field drilling superintendent for EOG Resources, on hand as well, to help answer questions.
"EOG is taking a very proactive approach to setting up in this area," said Jerry Pollock, deputy director of Clearfield County Emergency Management. "They sponsored this class in the event of a problem to teach emergency responders what to do if something does happen."

Marcellus shale gas drilling is here and will be for many years, and emergency responders are now trained and know what to do should a leak or fire occur.

Wolford said chances are very slim that a leak or fire will happen in the area, but chances for the need of an ambulance are more likely. He said injuries are common on drill rigs and ambulance personnel should have the fire department respond with them.

It was also noted that it's much safer for a well to be on fire than if it's just leaking gas, because the gas can and most likely will eventually ignite.

Wild Well Control has set up a base of operations in Clearfield County, at the Clearfield-Lawrence Township Airport. It has been there since September.

Wolford said there are only two such sites in the country, in Clearfield and the home base in Texas.
Two flatbed semi-trailers are loaded and sit at the ready in one of the hangars at the airport. Once the trailers are activated for a call, two new trailers leave Texas and head for the Pennsylvania base. There are two drivers, so one can sleep and while the other drives to ensure they have a speedy response time.

The trailers have 4,000-gallon-per-minute pumps, a 500-gallon fuel tank, a response container, an air compressor and monitor sheds.

Once the equipment is used and a call is over, the equipment is loaded back on the trailers and taken to Texas to be re-cleaned and readied for the next call.

There is always a debriefing before members of WWC go in to try to contain a fire or leak, and none of the WWC employees go near the scene until an advanced life support ambulance is on scene. Wolford said two paramedics and one emergency medical technician are needed on the truck because 90 percent of the injuries will most likely be respiratory burns.

It was recommended that fire chiefs establish a preplan for such an incident, even though there are slim chances it will happen. It was also recommended the companies work together and whoever is needed and has the correct resources should be utilized and no one should be canceled until they are at the designated site and discuss a plan.

Emergency responders were told to set up a safety area. There are three zones, a hot zone, a warm zone and a cold zone. The first thing to do is evacuate people within a half-mile radius. They are to be taken to a safety zone, typically a township building or fire station, that is out of harm's way.
Emergency responders were informed to never go on a drill rig without an escort and never enter the hot zone.

A story was relayed in which an ambulance was called to a scene for a man down, and upon arrival the crew was standing to the side of the drill rig, waving the ambulance down, but the crew just waved and continued to the scene, where hazardous gases felled the EMS crew.

WWC has been in business since 1975, and all of the employees who respond to a well incident have at least 20 years of experience. It also has an office in Pittsburgh where it holds training seminars.

Dysart said EOG is trying to be proactive with the emergency responders and the communities it will be in.
"Well incidents happen all the time in other areas," he said. "They just aren't anything major and don't get reported."

There is a cost for WWC to be deployed, but it is not a cost to the fire companies or other responding agencies; the cost comes back to the drilling company.

Dysart said EOG drilling will be returning to Clearfield County this week. He said the company was working in other areas to the north, but is returning to the area.

Nearly 40 people attended the Saturday class. The classes lasted about six hours. Firefighters appreciated the class and said it was very informative.

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