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October 27, 2010

Pa. gas well site hosts emergency training

By Chris Togneri
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Pa. — The inactive Franklin Lakeview Estates drill pad in Washington County played host to 100 emergency crew officials from 30 agencies who met in the predawn hours Saturday for an emergency response drill.

More than 100 emergency response officials gathered in predawn darkness Saturday morning to learn how to respond to a disaster at a natural gas drilling site.

During an emergency response drill at the inactive Franklin Lakeview Estates drill pad in North Franklin, Washington County, crews faced the aftermath of a huge — albeit imaginary — explosion. Three workers needed immediate help: One atop heavy equipment who had been struck by shrapnel; another who had fallen into a hole and was pinned under pipes; and a third who lay injured in the woods after driving a forklift over a steep embankment.

The victims were fake — crews pulled a dummy from the hole — but the situation one day could be all too real. And while the crews yesterday have been trained to treat all types of injuries, learning about the unique dangers of a natural gas drilling site is crucial, participants and organizers said. Dangers include chemicals, open ditches, the drill platform and multiple tripping hazards.

"The objective is to give them a clear understanding of what types of hazards they can expect to encounter (during a disaster)," said Ralph Tijerina, director of health, safety and environment for Range Resources, a Fort Worth company with regional headquarters in Canonsburg.

Range Resources organized and paid for the training, which cost an estimated $30,000 to $40,000. The company operates about 5,000 natural gas wells in the state, spokesman Mike Mackin said.

The importance of such training became clear in June when volunteer firefighters in Moundsville, W.Va., responded to the scene of a huge explosion and raging gas fire at a drill pad four miles out of town and had no idea what to do. Workers at the Chief Oil & Gas LLC well site had fled to seek medical attention. When volunteer firefighters from Moundsville arrived to find flames shooting 70 feet into the air, they couldn't find anyone from the company to guide them, and the chief said he didn't even know if his crews should put water on the flame. Company officials later admitted they should have trained first responders.

That won't be a problem in Washington County, said Canonsburg volunteer fire Chief Tim Solobay, who is also a Democratic state representative.

"To be able to see what are on these sites helps us prepare for whenever, and if, something may occur," Solobay said. "It's all about being prepared."

U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, also watched the drill. Such training is important, he said, because many new drilling sites will open with the discovery of the Marcellus shale formation, a gas-rich deposit about the size of Greece that stretches 8,000 feet beneath West Virginia, eastern Ohio, western and northern Pennsylvania and southern New York. The state has issued thousands of drilling permits since 2005.

"I want to see firsthand what would happen in a scenario like this," Murphy said. "I'm pleased the company (Range Resources) is making this investment."

Range Resources will hold another training session next year, said Mackin. The date and location have not been set.

Republished with permission from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review