Spill from Elizabeth Township fracking site under investigation
The state Department of Environmental Protection and Elizabeth Township Police are investigating after a tanker truck went over an embankment Thursday and spilled rainwater from a nearby fracking well containment pad.
A portion of the 4,650-gallon load spilled near a tributary of the Youghiogheny River about 9:30 p.m. in the vicinity of Nichols Hill Road and Douglas Run Road, according to Dan Ridenour, deputy chief of the township fire department.
“I can tell you the accident remains under investigation,” Ridenour said. “It was a fully-loaded water tanker truck, leaving the well site nearby. It went to make a turn, went over an embankment and overturned.”
Lauren Fraley, DEP’s community relations director, said remediation at the site continued Friday by private contractors with DEP monitoring the situation. However, she said the state agency believes the fluids contained in the tanker truck were not released into the Youghiogheny River.
“The operator reported to DEP that it was hauling containment wastewater that it described as stormwater mixed with some residual oil and gas contaminants from Huntley & Huntley Energy Exploration LLC’s Apollo B well pad,” Fraley said in a statement. “This is a separate type of oil and gas related residual waste and not the same as production fluid or brine, as some outlets have reported.”
She said DEP is awaiting third-party sampling results for a complete characterization of the fluid the tanker was hauling. The tanker had a capacity of 4,650 gallons and 3,100 gallons was pumped from the tank following the incident.
An estimated 1,500 gallons was released onto the ground. But she said due to site conditions, containment was limited Thursday night, according to Fraley.
She said DEP believes the impact of any fluid release to be limited to a Huntley & Huntley pipeline right of way and along the berm of Nichols Run Road. DEP officials at the scene Thursday and Friday said they observed no waterway impacts.
In addition to state DEP, hazardous materials teams from Allegheny and Westmoreland counties, firefighters from eight area departments, PennDOT, state police and township police responded.
Township police did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
“We were able to offload some of the water into another tanker truck,” Ridenour said.
A daily report posted by the state Emergency Management Agency said some of the leaking fluid spilled near a tributary stream of the Youghiogheny River.
“The responsible party is Huntley & Huntley, the Monroeville-based gas exploration and drilling company,” the report stated.
The company operates the Apollo B well pad in Elizabeth Township, the report said. Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the natural gas inside.
The identity of the hauler was not immediately available. Huntley & Huntley declined comment.
The PEMA report indicated that the truck was hauling rainwater from the containment pad. The state agency said township police support was requested at the scene “to conduct crowd control [which included] anti-fracking groups.”
Ridenour said the extrication of the driver was “very difficult” for emergency crews. The driver was taken by medical helicopter to an unspecified Pittsburgh trauma center, he said.
“That’s a two-lane roadway, very steep, with a sharp bend. It was a tough [rescue],” he said.
Ridenour said one part of the vehicle was on land “and the other part was hanging over the embankment,” he said.
“I can tell you we had the truck stabilized and the driver out within a half an hour of the call,” he said.
Ridenour also reported that both of the truck’s 150-gallon diesel tanks leaked fuel onto the road.
“We were able to contain the diesel fuel,” he said.
Most units were cleared from the scene just after 1 a.m. Friday. However, Ridenour said that some township firefighting crews remained on scene until 3:30 a.m. when the truck was removed by tow trucks. He said Nichols Hill Road reopened about 4 a.m.
Fraley said DEP observed a significant discharge of acid-mine drainage into Gillespie Run located at the intersection of Nichols Hill Road and Douglas Run Road. The longstanding acid-mine discharge is causing the section of Gillespie Run between the discharge point and Youghiogheny River to be a bright orange color and is unrelated to Thursday’s accident, Fraley said.
Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-850-2860, [email protected] or via Twitter .