Last Thursday a well in Clearfield County PA suffered a blowout.. Fracking fluid and gas jetted out of the hole, reaching 75 feet into the air, and was finally brought under control Friday around noon.

While the pollutants could have caused a major mess, it seems that the worst contamination was prevented. As the water made its way toward local streams, a work crew intercepted it by digging a trench and pumping it away, recovering about 35,000 gallons. No injuries resulted, nor was there any fire. However, the Washington Post reports

The gas never caught fire and no injuries were reported, but state officials worried about an explosion before the well could be controlled. The well was brought under control just after noon Friday, about 16 hours after it started spewing gas and brine, said Elizabeth Ivers, a spokeswoman for driller EOG Resources Inc.

EOG, the company owning the well, has released a statement about the incident:

The incident occurred at approximately 8:00 p.m. EDT on Thursday, June 3, 2010 when a service rig operated by a contractor was in the final stages of completing this natural gas well prior to bringing the well on production. When the incident occurred, containment trenches and sump pumps were immediately put in place to capture fluid release and well control specialists were dispatched to the wellsite. At sundown, for safety reasons, the area was secured and all personnel were moved away from the well site. The following morning the well control specialists and EOG assessed the situation and took steps to shut-in the well. They determined that no detectable amounts of natural gas were present in the area of the well. The PADEP was notified of the situation and representatives of the agency were also on location to oversee the securing of the well. At approximately 12:15 p.m. EDT on June 4, 2010, the well was secured and shut-in. The well site is in an unpopulated location approximately 11 miles from Penfield, PA. There were no fires, no injuries and no significant impact to the environment as a result of this incident.

During the 16-hour period, the well released a limited amount of flowback water, salt water and some natural gas, but the well has been completely shut-in and secured since approximately 12:15 p.m. EDT on June 4th. The containment trenches and sump pumps captured the majority of the fluids that flowed from the well during this time period. As of the morning of June 6, 2010, approximately 834 barrels (35,000 gallons) of these fluids had been recovered and are contained on location. EOG believes this is the majority of the fluids that were released from the well prior to being shut-in. EOG also immediately began monitoring nearby streams and springs to identify and respond to any impact to area water. At this time, EOG believes that any impact to area streams and springs and to the environment is minimal. All operations at this well site have been suspended and all applicable equipment has been secured pending the incident investigation.

In a preliminary assessment of the cause, it appears that the seal integrity between the pipe rams of the blow-out preventer (BOP) and the tubing was compromised allowing pressurized fluids and some natural gas to flow. The cause of this compromise is being investigated. As part of EOG’s routine operating and safety procedures, the BOP had been successfully tested the morning of June 3, 2010.

This is a nasty development, but I think there’s a silver lining to it.

First, we’ve learned more about the possible dangers of drilling, and hopefully that in turn will lead to a better understanding of how to mitigate them. We’re all lucky that this happened in an unpopulated region, so the effect of this accident will have minimal impact on people’s lives.

Second, with world attention focused on the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, this helps us keep a little perspective. This accident was dangerous, and things could have gone worse. But it’s a completely different class of incident compared to the Gulf. In particular, it appears that gas drilling, even involving hydrofracking, is much more manageable than deep-sea drilling.