CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At least seven people were injured, four of them very seriously, after an explosion at a hydraulic fracturing operation at a gas well drilling pad in Doddridge County early Sunday morning, according to emergency officials.
Pat Heaster, the Doddridge County director of emergency services, said that four workers had potentially life-threatening burns. Those four were transferred to United Hospital Center in Bridgeport and then flown to West Penn Burn Center in Pittsburgh.
Heaster said that at least three, and possibly four, others were taken to area hospitals in private vehicles.
Kevin Kilstrom, an executive with Antero Resources, which owns the well, said that a total of five workers were eventually flown to the burn center in Pittsburgh.
A Doddridge County 911 dispatcher had earlier said that a total of eight people were injured in the explosion.
The names and conditions of the injured workers have not been released.
Randy Trent, the chief of the Bancs Volunteer Fire Department, said that as they rushed to the scene Sunday morning they met victims being rushed to the hospital in private vehicles.
"We were probably five to six miles from the well site," Trent said. "On W.Va. Route 18, they were transporting people by personal vehicle to meet us."
The five workers flown to West Penn Burn Center did not work for Antero, but worked for three different contractors, Kilstrom said. Kilstrom would not release the names of the contractors. Heaster said that he saw Nabors Industries trucks on the scene, indicating that they were one of the contractors.
The explosion happened just before 4 a.m. Sunday at the Hinterer 2H well on the Ruddy Alt pad on Brushy Fork in New Milton, Kilstrom said. Kilstrom said there are three wells on the pad.
The explosion did not happen at the drilling rig itself, which wasn't damaged, but at a nearby operation, Heaster said.
"They were fracking a well and something exploded, either in the pump or around the pump," Heaster said.
Heaster said that they were pumping water down a well, part of the hydraulic fracturing process for recovering gas trapped in shale rock. He said that the tanks that recover the water and other materials after they return to the surface are what exploded.
"The holding tanks that they were pumping into, that's what exploded," Heaster said. "It was a supplementary operation to the drilling process, the wellhead was not involved."
Trent said that the fire was about 50 yards from the wellhead.
"Once we were on the scene the flames were never more than six to eight feet high," Trent said.