MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- A spark from a natural gas drilling operation in north-central West Virginia ignited methane gas several hundred feet underground early Friday, sending up a fireball and triggering a blaze that officials said burned for about an hour on the floor of the rig.
Three workers were injured, two seriously enough to be airlifted to a hospital after the fire at the Antero Resources site near Sycamore, Harrison County. The fire was quickly extinguished and the well pad was in a rural area, so it posed no danger to the public.
Al Schopp, a vice president at Colorado-based Antero, said two men were flown to a burn unit in Pittsburgh, but he did not have word on their conditions. The third victim was treated at a Clarksburg hospital and released.
All worked for Antero's drilling contractor, Hall Drilling of Ellenboro. Officials with Hall didn't return a telephone call.
State Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Tom Aluise said the crew was in the early stages of drilling a Marcellus Shale gas well. The drill was about 400 feet deep when they began to withdraw it, creating a spark that ignited the methane.
That created more of a fireball than an explosion at the Cottrill No. 3 well on Antero's Southern pad, he said.
Aluise said Antero voluntarily shut down the operation, and a DEP investigation is under way. Schopp said the company also is investigating.