ALLENTOWN — A blowout at a natural gas well in rural northern Pennsylvania spilled thousands of gallons of chemical-laced water today, contaminating a stream and forcing the evacuation of seven families who live nearby as crews struggled to stop the gusher.
Chesapeake Energy Corp. lost control of the well site near Canton, in Bradford County, around 11:45 p.m. Tuesday, officials said. Tainted water continued to flow from the site Wednesday afternoon, though workers finally managed to prevent any more of it from reaching the stream.
No injuries were reported, and there was no explosion or fire.
“As a precautionary measure, seven families who live near the location have been temporarily relocated until all agencies involved are confident the situation has been contained. There have been no injuries or natural gas emissions to the atmosphere,” Chesapeake spokesman Brian Grove said in a statement.
Chesapeake said a piece of equipment failed late Tuesday while the well was being hydraulically fractured, or fracked. In the fracking process, millions of gallons of water, along with chemical additives and sand, are injected at high pressure down the well bore to break up the shale and release the gas.
State environmental regulators were taking water samples from the unnamed tributary of Towanda Creek on Wednesday but did not report a fish kill. Towanda Creek is stocked with trout.
Officials advised a neighboring farmer to prevent his cows from drinking surface water, according to DEP spokeswoman Katy Gresh.
She said reports from the scene indicate that fracking water was gushing from the wellhead, pooling on the pad, then escaping containment.
“Discharge of fluids to the unnamed tributary appears to be stopped,” she said.
The blowout comes amid a natural gas-drilling boom in the Marcellus Shale formation below Pennsylvania and neighboring states. Fracking allows affordable access to gas supplies that once were too expensive to tap. Critics complain that the chemicals used in fracking may be contaminating water supplies.