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Ohio Officials Mount Investigation Into Gas Well Explosion

Ohio State Highway Patrol Aviation Section
An aerial photo of the gas well explosion on Feb. 15, 2018 in Belmont County, Ohio.

Just over a month ago, an explosion at a Utica shale drilling site in Southeast Ohio's Belmont County forced evacuation of nearby homes. It took nearly three weeks to cap the well. Investigators are now sorting out what happened, and how to keep it from happening somewhere else.

Dave Ivan, director of Belmont County Emergency Management, says one thing was clear in the February 15 emergency: the coordinated state and local response plan works.

“The State of Ohio had devised a ‘one call,’” Ivan says. “When something happens on one of these pads the producer makes one phone call and notifies a bunch of different agencies at just about the same time.”

That includes the Ohio EPA and the state’s Department of Natural Resources.

“With that one call, this was reported right around 9:30, and by 11:00-11:30, we had state folks over here already in the area,” Ivan says.

Ivan says trained crews to deal the blowout were also there within hours.

“We were able to secure the well,” says Karen Matusic, a spokesperson for XTO Energy, which owns the well pad. “And we reinforced the well, so that we are able to undergo our investigation. And then, once the investigation is over and we are able to very closely check the integrity of the well, we’ll determine what we are going to be doing with that well.”

The well that blew out was one of four on a pad near Powhatan Point on the Ohio River, about 20 miles downstream from Wheeling, W.Va.  It was being readied to go into service when the explosion occurred. 

XTO has more than 40 horizontal shale wells in Belmont County. In total, Eastern Ohio has 2,317 shale wells, and 495 more permitted for drilling.