LEBANON – A gas well in the Town of Lebanon exploded early Thursday morning, less than five and a half miles from Chenango’s border with Madison County. The explosion injured two workers and jolted nearby residents from their beds.
“Two well operators that were on site were both treated for burns, one to his face and arms and one with burns to his face. They were treated for the burns and released within hours of the incident,” said Norse Energy spokesman Dennis Holbrook.
Norse Energy is the parent company of Nornew, which has an office located in The Eaton Center in Norwich.
The incident began at 5 a.m. Thursday when a fire was somehow ignited at the site, causing an explosion. The company flew in a response team and had the fire put out using foam and water by 2 p.m., explained Holbrook.
The cause of the fire is still being investigated, but the company said it ignited while operators were in the process of removing drill piping.
The closest residence to the explosion was a home along Lebanon Hill Road, approximately 300 to 400 yards away.
Don Johnson lives there with his family and was awakened by the sound Thursday morning.
“I was sleeping and the sound woke me up,” said Johnson, who described the noise as a loud concussion.
“It was one of those things you wake up and think ‘what the heck was that? Was I dreaming?’ I went back to bed and the next thing I hear is someone knocking on my door and that’s when you start to wonder ‘What is going on?’”
“They came knocking on the door, maybe 20 minutes after five (a.m.) and we were told by them that there was an ‘incident’ and to ‘pleased stay in your home and away from your windows for the time being,’” said Johnson, quoting Norse Energy personnel he recognized from the gas rigs down the road.
Lebanon Hill Road has three gas wells along it and two of them are within sight of the family’s farmhouse home.
Johnson said he’s used to having Norse Energy as a neighbor. “Nothing surprises me up here anymore,” said Johnson. “It’s just constant traffic,” he added.
Norse Energy flew in a response team to review the fire as it burned to evaluate how to terminate the blaze safely.
“We flew in our senior operations people. Vice President of Operations Daniel Steffy, who is located in Norwich most of the week but was in Pittsburgh for a meeting – and we flew in his boss, Senior Vice President Mark Williams, who works in Pittsburgh,” said Holbrook.
The company’s head of safety operations, Doug Stebbins, was also on site. “He was already in the area since most our activities right now are focused right here,” said Holbrook.
While the company scrambled a response, Madison County fire departments responded to the blaze within minutes of the initial explosion.
“We had a fire at a gas well and we’re standing by waiting for the company to decide how it want to extinguish the fire,” said Eaton Fire Chief Rick Stoddard Thursday morning.
“We’re not specifically trained to put out these kinds of gas fires and the company is bringing in its own response team. We are here to give them a hand if they need it,” he added.
“The property damage was limited to the rig and the property around it. We try to locate these wells a sufficient distance away from people and we anticipate the possibility of these sorts of things happening and have a plan in place,” said Holbrook.
He said that part of that plan was working closely with emergency services and notifying them whenever an incident took place.
The company is also in the process of trying to inform appropriate public officials in the region to help educate elected leaders and the public, explained Holbrook.
The Department of Environmental Conservation was also on site to address environmental concerns, which Holbrook said was contained to a diesel spill from one of the vehicles there.
“We have a contract with an environment cleanup agency for these things,” he said.
In a statement released Thursday, the company wrote that “minimal environmental impact is anticipated.”
“Obviously when anything like this occurs, we want to step back and make sure we are operating in the safest manner possible,” said Holbrook. The company also closed a nearby rig for inspection as a precaution.
“The most important is thing is the people, making sure we address public safety and then the environment and securing the location and putting out the fire. After that, we look at the cause – what occurred, why it occurred, and minimizing it from occurring again,” he said.
If any of that last paragraph was true, they just wouldn’t drill in the first place.