West Virginia Fracking Well Explosion Triggers Investigation

A July 7 explosion at an Antero Resources natural gas well site in West Virginia has injured at least five people. In the wake of the blast, state and federal officials have launched an investigation into the cause of the explosion.

Initial reports suggest that a spark triggered a flash explosion and a fire after a problem during the "flow back" process when spent drilling fluids are pumped into storage tanks. The "flow back" process is necessary to deal with wastes left over from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. During the fracking process, millions of gallons of water and chemicals are pumped into underground wells in order to crack shale formations and release natural gas for collection. Once drilling and collection is complete, oil and gas companies dispose of leftover water using the “flow back” process, which apparently went awry in West Virginia.

Once a spark ignited at the site, two storage tanks containing brine and fracking fluid exploded. Five Antero workers had to be hospitalized for treatment of their burns.

An Antero representative said, "We do not know the ignition source, but we suspect it was a methane explosion.”

Officials with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are now on site, investigating the incident.

Kathy Cosco, a DEP spokeswoman, said a malfunctioning pump appears to have played a contributing role in the incident, although though no conclusions have yet been reached.

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