The Quiet Truth
Behind Oklahoma's Oil & Gas
Drilling near rural water OLG photo
The quiet truth that surrounds Oklahoma’s oil and gas industry is one that reverberates across our state and the country. Oklahoma is well known for energy production. What is not as well-known is the number of disasters that accompany it. Since October 2011, 11 people have died in separate accidents and several more have been hospitalized with burns and other injuries. Add to this the damage that spills cause the environment and the picture begins to look a little different.
Photo © marrakeshh / 123RF Stock Photo
Deaths and injuries, although tragic, are not the only concern about what happens relating to oil and gas in Oklahoma. An important fact to remember is
that not all of these injuries or deaths have been limited to oil field workers: average citizens have been affected as well. The number of accidents and resulting damage is on the rise.
Just how safe are Oklahomans from oil and gas involved accidents? That is a hard call to make - it might just depend on who you are asking. People in the town of Alex could tell you that Oklahomans are not as safe as you might believe. In 2008, a 20 inch natural gas pipeline owned by Enogex exploded in the middle of the night. A 16-18 foot section of pipe blew up, leaving a 30-40 foot crater in the ground. It also destroyed three local homes and sent some residents to the hospital.
The residents of Medford experienced an evacuation lasting four days because of a wellhead rupture at the ONEOK Hydrocarbon
facility in March of this year. The rupture poured saltwater brine and propane vapors into the air for four whole days before finally being capped. Capping it was only the beginning, however - the saltwater brine had to be cleaned up before it could reach the groundwater of Pond Creek. It was extensive enough that crews had to dam up tributaries to keep the water from flowing downstream. Then it had to be flushed from the tributary, causing workers to rinse the creek bed and pump the rinse waters to a brine pit and on to a saltwater disposal facility. The ground around the leak also had to undergo testing for chlorine levels to make sure they were not too high.
Leak Photo © ultrapro / 123RF Stock Photo
In September of 2011, twenty-five homes near the small town of Watonga were evacuated due to a natural gas well explosion. The flames reached nearly 100 feet into the night sky. The flames were so strong they could be seen from 60 miles away. A bit earlier in the year, around July 2011, the Department of Justice issued a new release stating that a drilling contractor from Integrated Production Services, Inc. pled guilty on a violation of the Clean Water Act. According to the department of Justice, in 2007 there was a leak of about 700 gallons of hydrochloric acid onto the well site ground. This disaster was compounded by the local tank battery, fact that there was a heavy rainfall and flooding occurring at the time of the leak. The supervisor drove his truck through a berm to remove the rainwater, thus allowing the hydrochloric acid to leave the well pad and flow into nearby Dry Creek, a tributary of Boggy Creek. IPS was forced to pay the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation $22,000 for ecological studies and remediation of Boggy Creek.
Consider speaking to Edmond residents about their experience with Oklahoma’s oil problems. In June of 2010, a 20-inch gathering line allowed oil to leak into the Deep Fork River just south of Edmond. This line was not even connected to an active well, but rather one that had been abandoned for several years. It was estimated that about 250 barrels were emptied into the Deep Fork. It is interesting to note that a spill equal to one gallon of oil is able to contaminate about one million gallons of water.
Edmond residents located in a small neighborhood can now add an oil spill to their list of experiences. August of this year, a small pond near Danforth and Kelly was contaminated by an oil leak where pipeline valves were left on. It is estimated the size of the leak compared to 10-20 barrels of oil and was carried by rainwater into the small pond.
In 2011, another spill occurred when 42,000 gallons of crude oil was spilled from a 10 inch pipeline near Maysville due to corrosion in the pipe.
Witnesses near Weeletka, Oklahoma, can tell a dramatic story concerning a night back in 2010. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board investigators found that a group of individuals decided to socialize around an unattended production site that was connected to a gas metering and collection system. A fiery explosion took place about 10 minutes after the groups arrival. This lead to one death and caused another person to suffer 2nd degree burns.
It is true that everyone should know that well sites are not a playground; however, they are supposed to have signs, locks and security in place to prevent people from entering this type of facility. The CBS investigation also found a vast number of other oil and gas sites in the same area also unsecured and lacking warning signs. CBS also found that Oklahoma sported the highest number of any state for killed or injured members of the public due to oil site explosions since 1990.
Another oil leak made itself known to residents along Coon Creek in Dewey County earlier this year. The suspected culprit is an abandoned well drilled perhaps 100 years ago. The real difficulty in locating the source of this leak is the fact that this well is hard to find and searchers have no clue of exactly where to look. Workers were able to contain the leak spill area to about 1.5 miles and dispose of the oil and salt water by suctioning it off and removing it by tanker trucks.
Leaking well head OLG photo
January of this year came in with a very big explosion near Sweetwater, Oklahoma. On January 5th, 2012, a fracking well owned by Nomac, a subsidiary of Chesapeake Energy Corp., blew out and the resulting fire burned for six days before it was brought under control, destroying the entire rig. At the time of the explosion none of the blowout prevention devices were up and running, therefore there was no way to control the well and keep it intact.
Chesapeak was fined $75,000 by Oklahoma Regulators for problems leading up to the blast. Unfortunately, the real danger this situation presents may be being glossed over. This particular well rests over the High Plains or Ogallala Aquifer. Because of the drilling mud laced with additives and the shallow gas that was released during the blowout, there are now fears that the aquifer could have possibly been compromised.
The information contained in this article covers just a few examples of what has and is happening quietly across the Oklahoma landscape. While the oil and gas industry receives great raves for the jobs and income it provides Oklahoma residents, it merely glosses over the problems that it also brings to our state. One day we will have to face the truth – much more comes along with our drive for oil and gas than money and jobs. Let us hope that day comes before a greater disaster does.