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Three contractors' workers injured in Sunday Antero wellpad explosion

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Update Monday 6/15

Antero spokesman Al Schopp said two of the five men who were injured are still in serious condition at the West Penn Burn Center.

Schopp said the men are going through surgeries and skin grafting procedures and that they are making progress.

Schopp said one of the contractors is not giving out new information about the conditions of the other three men.

The Department of Environmental Protection has ceased operations at the well site and ordered Antero to submit a report showing that it understands the cause of the incident and can safely resume operations.

Update 3 p.m. Tuesday

Antero spokesman Al Schopp said "a couple" of the five injured workers who are being treated at the West Penn Hospital Burn Center are doing better, while some remain in serious condition. 


Updated 4:50 p.m. Monday

A Sunday morning explosion at an Antero Resources wellpad in Doddridge County injured five workers from three contracting companies.

Three workers from Nabors Completion and Production Service and one each from C and R Downhole Drilling and Willowbend Investments Inc. were hospitalized, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

They were flown to the Burn Center at Western Pennsylvania, or West Penn, Hospital in Pittsburgh. Monday afternoon, four were listed in serious condition and one was stable, according to Antero spokesman Al Schopp.

The company is not going to release the names of the victims, Schopp said. He did affirm that the incident injured five workers, not eight as was widely reported on Sunday.

Nearby resident Diane Pitcock said in an email that two explosions rattled the windows of her home at about 4 a.m. Sunday.

Antero Vice President Kevin Kilstrom told media sources on Sunday that there are three wells on the Ruddy Alt wellpad in New Milton where the explosion occurred.

Mid-day Monday, the state Department of Environmental Protection released a few more details — mainly unofficial observations, because determining the cause of the explosion is not the responsibility of the West Virginia DEP, but of OSHA.

The source of the ignition seems, pre-investigation, to have been a pump at the third well on the site, DEP spokesperson Kathy Cosco said Office of Oil and Gas supervisor Rick Campbell told her. The pump, which had malfunctioned, was being used to push data logging equipment down into the horizontal wellbore, which Cosco clarified had been drilled and hydraulically fractured, by pumping fluid behind it.

The pump is run by a diesel engine.

The fluid was "produced water" — fluid that comes back up from wells during gas production and contains some level of potentially explosive volatile organic compounds, and is sometimes re-used for purposes such as this — that was contained in two tanks next to the pump.

The tanks "ruptured," Cosco said Campbell told her. While Campbell was distinguishing between the sense of "splitting open" as opposed to "exploding," his description did not rule out the possibility that fumes that had volatilized and accumulated inside the tanks exploded, she said.

Again, this is speculation; DEP's real business on the site is determining whether any environmental contamination resulted.

Although fluid did spill from the tanks, the lining and berm at the site contained the spill and it was vacuumed up, Cosco said. A DEP  inspector on site is confirming that no fluid reached waterways.

Antero spokesman  Schopp said the company has hired two independent companies to investigate and determine the cause of the explosion.

Antero is one of the several largest natural gas producers in West Virginia. It is especially active in Doddridge and nearby counties.