by Aaron Gifford
Thursday March 19, 2009, 3:39 PM
LEBANON, NY – Two people were injured Wednesday after a natural gas well explosion on Soule Road in the town of Lebanon, the second such incident in the area this year, authorities said.
The well, owned by Nornew Inc., was reported ablaze at around 5 a.m. The two workers had finished drilling at the site and were pulling out pipe when something ignited the gas, said Dennis Holbrook, speaking for Nornew.
DRILLCO LLC, a Nornew subsidiary, employs the workers. Holbrook said one sustained first-degree burns and the other first- and second-degree burns. Both were treated at a local hospital and released. Neither was identified.
Chris Lloyd, Eaton Fire Department’s deputy first assistant chief, said the flames and black smoke could be seen two miles away.
Firefighters from Georgetown and Smithfield also responded to the scene. Firefighters applied foam and then water to the blaze, which was contained to the well. It burned for about 10 hours and was extinguished by 3 p.m., Holbrook said.
“It’s not surprising that you could have something burning there, but we’re not sure what ignited it,” Holbrook said.
There are residents within a half-mile of the site but an evacuation was not required, firefighters said. The state Department of Environmental Conservation is currently investigating the incident and overseeing any clean-up work, along with Nornew’s insurance company and a third-party environmental company hired by Nornew, Holbrook said.
The drilling rig and other equipment was damaged in the fire, but company officials have not estimated the damage yet. Holbrook said the well would probably still be operational.
A Nornew well in nearby Smyrna, Chenango County, caught fire on Jan. 1. In that incident, investigators believe, a shard of rock broke a fluorescent light bulb, igniting the fire that burned for about an hour.
Nornew began drilling wells in Lebanon in the late 1990s and has accelerated its activity in neighboring towns in recent years.
Holbrook said Nornew has not had any well fires yet on other properties it owns in Erie County and in Oklahoma. He said employees are very careful to safeguard against accidents when they use new techniques and adjust to new landscapes.
“There are new challenges in each new region we explore,” he said.
According to DEC spokeswoman Lori Severino, such incidents are infrequent; the last rig fire occurred in March at a liquid propane gas storage facility in Steuben County.