Sad echo on anniversary of BP disaster as Chesapeake gas well blows in PA

Environmental regulators and local officials in the Marcellus Shale hotbed of Bradford County, PA are saying “thousands and thousands of gallons of frack fluid [spilled] over containment walls, through fields, personal property and farms, even where cattle continue to graze” after Chesapeake Energy “lost control” over a gas well that in the process of being hydraulically fractured (or “fracked”) late last night.

The accident – which has eerie echoes to the tragic events surrounding the BP oil well blow-out that occurred one year ago today in the Gulf of Mexico – has resulted in the evacuation of local residents, as well as contamination of a nearby stream that feeds the nearby Susquehanna River.  Reportedly, contaminated wastewaters flowed unabated from the well for over 12 hours following the blow-out.

It is chilling to hear phrases like “blow-out” and “efforts to kill the well” on this of all days.  And it is a stark reminder that – one year after environmental disaster struck and 11 lives were lost – we are no closer to having the critically important kinds of protections in place to prevent this kind of event from happening either on- or off-shore.

Unless industry can find a way to stop these kinds of disasters from occurring, the public will continue to view oil and gas development with increasing skepticism.  And places like New York, with its own share of the gas-rich Marcellus Shale, will be right to continue to say no to any new gas development, setting a national example as to how to take a cautionary approach in the face of inadequately regulated industrial technologies.

Update: News outlets are reporting today that Chesapeake has suspended all fracking operations in PA pending a determination of what caused Tuesday night's blow-out and resulting massive spill of hazardous wastewaters into the nearby Towanda Creek and Susquehanna River.

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Kate Sinding

Senior Adviser to the President

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