Surrounded by new and old oil and gas wells a home was instantaneously demolished by a gas explosion December 10, 2019. The explosion rattled windows and shook the nerves of residents of the neighborhood near St. Bonaventure University in Allegheny Township, Cattaraugus County, New York State.
The owner of the leveled home, Ronald Volz attended the Allegheny Town Council meeting held on December 10, 2019 and explained that just before his home was leveled his water started turning milky and black. Three days earlier it was fine. Volts said “from my understanding ten minutes before my house blew, they fracked oil across the street.”
By a stroke of luck Ronald and Betty Volts were not home when their house exploded. The Volts home was located in New York just north of the Pennsylvania border and only 11.5 miles from 832 Interstate Parkway, Bradford, PA where 9 years earlier Robert and Beverly Butler were not as lucky. The Butlers were home and both were injured when their home exploded.
Above: 10 Helen Lane, Bradford, PA 2011
The commonality of the three home explosions in the region where the modern oil and gas industry has its roots is difficult to ignore.
No determination has been made regarding the source of the gas that destroyed the Volts home, and the investigation is continuing. Methane migration occurs naturally in some areas but it is also associated with oil and gas exploration, faulty well casings, fracking, unplugged wells and ineffectively plugged wells.
Many wells are in the immediate area, drilling began in 1865 in the “Four Mile” oil field. And according to historic records 175 wells were located in the town of Allegany, 1000’ to 1200’ deep by 1889. According to Department of Environmental Conservation database, many of the Dime Energy wells are drilled around the same depth as the pre-existing, legacy wells. An unknown number of wells in the region were drilled long before regulatory oversight existed so maps and records identifying the location of pre-regulation wells may be limited.
Plugged and unplugged wells may and often do become pathways for methane and other fluids to the aquifer or surface. And well plugs have a life span, they are not a permanent; they age and as the age they deteriorate, shrink and fail over time. There are many factors that influence the effectiveness of a well plug including workmanship, pressure, temperature and more.
It’s important to note, the homes in this neighborhood are situated in a historic oil field known as ‘Four Mile Oil and Gas Field’ where hundreds of wells were drilled long before the existence of a regulatory framework
While many independent oil producers face bankruptcy due to current low oil prices, Dime Energy Inc., told residents the company plans to drill up to 400 wells.
During a recent meeting residents expressed concerns over their safety, real estate values due to the observed risk related with the gas explosion and air quality due to the long-drawn-out flaring (burning off) of natural gas coming from the oil wells which is impacting the air quality. Since the explosion residents have heard strange noises and they have felt their homes shake.
While the investigation into the cause of the explosion continues residents questions surrounding their safety are lingering. The cause has not been determined, and DEC has turned down requests from citizens to meet with the public to answer questions about the incident and explain what steps if any will be taken to reduce the risks.
Check out our blog and visit Releasing Methane for updates as we follow organizations, regulators, local, state and other official’s in their response to the Allegheny Explosion.
Above: 832 Interstate Parkway, Bradford, PA, 2010
The Butler’s were both home and injured when their home at 832 Interstate Parkway exploded in 2010.
After the Butler’s home was destroyed by the gas explosion on December 2010, Thomas Federspiel stepped outside to shovel snow from his driveway at 10 Helen Lane, Bradford, PA on February 28, 2011 and his home exploded.
After an extensive investigation into the cause of the explosion that destroyed Federspiel’s home the Department of Environmental Protection determined the cause which was gas migration associated with nearby oil and gas wells. Federspiel’s home was only 12 miles away from the recent home explosion in Allegheny, Twp. NY.
This link goes to the Images and information from the Allegany, NY presentation on Jan. 16, 2020
Dimes Energy speaks during the Allegany Town Board Metting 12-10-2019. Video: https://youtu.be/EbttcMIqICs?t=674