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DEP demands more details on fatal Antero blast

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia regulators on Thursday ordered Antero Resources to provide more information about what the company believes caused an explosion that killed two workers last month at a Doddridge County natural gas well.

James Martin, chief of the Department of Environmental Protection's Office of Oil and Gas, issued a follow-up order that demands that Antero provide "all information" used by the company in an initial report on the blast.

Martin's action followed the submission by Denver-based Antero of a two-page report that blamed the explosion on a buildup of gas from tanks used to store "flow-back" water from the process of preparing the well for natural gas production.

Antero filed the report on Wednesday, the legal deadline under an order issued by DEP on July 10.

"They don't have a lot of information backing up what they say in this report," said DEP spokeswoman Kathy Cosco. "This is a report that could have been submitted to us long before the deadline."

Previously, Antero has said that the methane explosion early on the morning of July 7 occurred as a crew was inserting a production tube into the metal casing around the drilled hole.

Jason Mearns, 37, of Beverly died Sunday at West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh. Tommy Paxton, 45, of Walton died at West Penn Hospital on July 24. Mearns was employed by Antero contractor Nabors Completion & Production Services, and Paxton by Antero contractor C&R Downhole Drilling, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

In its two-page letter to DEP, Antero said that the causes of the incident were "the presence of an accumulation of gas from storage tanks on location" and "weather conditions exacerbating the accumulation potential of said gas." The company also blamed "a concentration of heavier than methane hydrocarbons in the gas mixture" and "an apparent ignition source near" a C&R Drilling skid pump.

Al Schopp, a spokesman for Antero, said that the company would not comment beyond the letter to DEP.

DEP inspectors had initially said that the flow-back tanks had exploded, perhaps because of a buildup of either natural gas or other vapors. DEP said that a nearby pump that had malfunctioned could have ignited the gas.

The new order doesn't provide a deadline for Antero to respond, but Cosco said that DEP's original "cease operations" order remains in effect until the company provides the information state officials want.

In its initial filing with DEP, Antero said that to prevent similar incidents in the future it would increase reviews of equipment layouts at well sites and consider using taller flow-back storage tanks to help disperse gas releases. The company said it would begin requiring all personnel at sites to wear gas monitors, consider installing fixed gas monitors at each site, and evaluate the use of tank and area ventilation for each site.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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