Far from being an isolated incident, the massive leak from a southwest Pennsylvania underground methane gas storage well last month was indicative of widespread failures by Equitrans to safely operate its aging network of storage wells in the area, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. According to the Penn. Dept. of Environmental Protection, “Equitrans has failed to properly maintain and operate the wells, and its continuing failure to minimize the potential for well control emergencies constitutes an ongoing threat to the environment and to human health and safety.”

In just 11 days, the leak in Cambria County released more than one-quarter of the gas leaked from Aliso Canyon in 118 days. The George L. Reade 1 storage well is one of 12 in the Equitrans storage field at Rager Mountain — subsequent investigations have discovered gas leaks from ten more. As of Dec. 9, the DEP had issued three orders to Equitrans, cited “a host of violations,” per the Post-Gazette, and subpoenaed phone and text records between Equitrans and the contractor it hired to stop the leak. That contractor’s actions are also under scrutiny; its hurried efforts to suppress the leak resulted in 50-100 barrels of heavy saltwater brine dumping around the gushing well, drenching the surrounding ground and turning trees black.

‘We got lucky’

The George L. Reade 1 well was a “single-point-of-failure” well, meaning that if the one layer of protection between the well and the soil surrounding it failed, the entire well would fail. It was one of 239 “single-point-of-failure” storage wells across Pennsylvania alone, many of them in far more populated areas. “Honestly, we got lucky in a way here,” Kurt Klapkowki, acting DEP deputy secretary for oil and gas management, told a technical advisory board investigating the Equitrans leak. “To be frank about it, there are gas storage facilities that are not in remote areas that are significant cause for concern.” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette $)