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The Wyoming Well Blowout: What Does It Mean for Pennsylvania Fracking?

In late April, a blowout at a hydraulic fracturing gas mine in Wyoming became a major news story. A plume of natural gas and mud blew into the air, and the roar of venting methane gas could be heard from six miles away. Some 67 residents near the well were asked to evacuate their homes. There were no reports of injuries or fires.

The well is located in Converse County, Wyoming, about ten miles northeast of Douglas. It taps into the Niobrara Shale, a field of underground rock that has pockets of oil and natural gas trapped underneath. Chesapeake Energy, based in Oklahoma City, operates the well; Chesapeake is the nation’s second-largest U.S. natural-gas drilling company.

Three days after the accident, the leak was capped. Ironically, the company’s stock price rose immediately following the incident.

While investigations into the cause of the accident are still underway, the Wyoming Oil and Gas Supervisor Tom Doll assured residents the incident “had nothing to do with fracking.” Perhaps that’s technically true—the shale hadn’t actually been broken at the worksite—but it’s obvious that the rig blowout occurred only because the gas exploration operation was in progress.

Mr. Doll is also letting Chesapeake take the lead in investigating the incident and estimating the environmental damage, according to news reports.

Can it happen here?

In the aftermath of the Wyoming incident, many commentators and advocacy journalists have taken positions on what this means for gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale region. Some editorials have raised alarm, and more — more friendly to the business perspective — have assured us that, no, it can’t happen here.

That ignores one difficult fact: It already has happened here.

About a year ago, Chesapeake Energy had a blowout at a Pennsylvania fracking well—an accident that took nearly a week to bring under control. In that incident, the ruptured well led to the release of thousands of gallons of fracking fluid to contaminate a stream near Canton. Several families were asked to vacate their homes.

Many people believe that the 2011 Bradford County blowout was crucial in convincing concerned citizens to mount an organized resistance to dangerous Pennsylvania fracking operations. Certainly, in recent months, there has been a growing awareness that the expansion of fracking operations has not been a completely positive experience for Pennsylvania.

How long can we trust to good luck?

The people of Wyoming were lucky, just as we were lucky a year ago. There were no immediate injuries or fatalities from either of the well blowouts. Given the record of horrific accidents at oil and gas wells, we can be thankful that workers and nearby homes were spared this time.

We can’t pretend that our luck is going to hold forever. Given the huge boom in Marcellus Shale fracking projects, someday — maybe soon — someone is going to get seriously hurt.

If you or a family member have been injured due to a negligent Pennsylvania energy company or employee, you may be eligible to receive compensation for your medical bills, lost income, and suffering. It is vital for you to preserve your legal rights by calling Ostroff Injury Law at (855) 880-6667 today. Jon Ostroff is the Pennsylvania fracking injury lawyer prepared to work intensively to get you the recovery you deserve. Contact him today or fill in the online form to get a FREE, no-obligation evaluation of your case.