Texas

Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Explosion and Fire at Eagle Ford Disposal Well in Pearsall [Update]

Photo courtesy of Pearsall Volunteer Fire Department

An explosion and fire rocked an oil fracking site in South Texas last night. Three were injured.

You can read our follow-up reporting on this story here.

April 25, 2012 UPDATE: This week OSHA issued ten citations for “serious violations” by High Roller Wells, which operates the disposal well. You can read more about those citations here. 

Three people have been injured after an explosion and fire at a disposal well in Pearsall, Texas Thursday night. The site is used for disposal of fracking fluids from the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas, about 50 miles from San Antonio.* The fire burned for several hours and was put out by 9 p.m. last night. It isn’t clear yet what caused the explosion. (The Railroad Commision of Texas, which oversees drilling in the state, later released a statement explaining the explosion. You can read it below.)

Update: StateImpact Texas spoke with Pearsall Volunteer Fire Department Chief Placido Aguilar today about the fire. He said that at about 5:30 p.m. Thursday an oil tank exploded and caught fire. It took about an hour and a half to get under control once firefighters arrived. “There were four departments from around here, twelve trucks, and 33 guys that helped with the fire,” he told StateImpact Texas. He said that the fire department had to cool down three tanks holding oil so they wouldn’t reignite.

Aguilar says the site uses hydraulic fracturing to drill for oil.* “There was a well running when we got there that had to be shut down,” Aguilar said. “I know it’s producing, [because] they had three tanks full of oil. That one that exploded lost its top and was on fire.” (Update: These earlier reports appear to be wrong. The site is used for disposal of wastewater from fracking and drilling, according to the Railroad Commission of Texas. Read the statement from the Railroad Commission of Texas on the explosion here.)

With drilling taking off in the Eagle Ford Shale, is Aguilar concerned that his all-volunteer department will have to respond to more fires like these? ”Yes, probably in the last six months we’ve had two other incidents. And they [drillers] say they’re gonna be here for a while.”

Aguilar, who works as a delivery man at Parsons furniture, said that his department hasn’t received any additional funding or personnel during the fracking boom in South Texas and isn’t expecting any, either. In fact, he said that Thursday’s fire was actually fortunate timing for the volunteer department. “Everybody was getting out of work around the time it happened, so we had plenty of help,” he said. “If it had happened during the day, I don’t know what would’ve happened. I don’t know if we would’ve been able to put it out.”

Chief Aguilar doesn’t know who owns the well. ”I haven’t been able to get that information yet,” he said. His department won’t be doing any further investigation unless the company’s insurance agents become involved. He said that from here it is up to the Railroad Commission of Texas to investigate. (Update: StateImpact Texas has contacted the Railroad Commission and they released this statement. The well is operated by High Roller Wells.)

KSAT San Antonio has a report from the scene (and video of the fire):

Just before 6 p.m., officials said the explosion knocked the top off one oil well, launching it 25 yards in the air. Heavy flames and black smoke could be seen from miles away. “All the oil spread and started burning on top of those frack tanks,” said Placido Aguilar, Pearsall Fire Chief.

Firefighters from Pearsall and Dilley used a combination of water and foam to attack the blaze. Aguilar said firefighters also monitored levels of hydrogen sulfide, which is a poisonous gas. By 8 p.m., firefighters finally had things under control.

KSAT says that it isn’t clear how serious the injuries were to the three workers, but that “police said all three men were conscious and breathing when they were taken to the hospital.”

KSAT San Antonio also a slideshow of images of the fire.

On January 6 a fire occurred after a blowout at a well in Oklahoma that was going to be fracked for natural gas:

*This report earlier indicated the site was an oil well, based on news reports and an interview with the Pearsall Volunteer Fire Department Chief, but the Railroad Commission of Texas says today that the site was used as a disposal well for fluids from drilling and fracking. Here is the commission’s statement:

“A Railroad Commission inspector responded around 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 19, to a storage tank fire at a saltwater disposal facility operated by High Roller Well, LLC, south of Pearsall on State Highway 581, south of Pearsall. Preliminary information provided to the inspector indicates that while a truck was unloading saltwater with a skim of condensate (liquid hydrocarbons) into a collection tank, welders were working nearby and sparks from the welding may have ignited vapors around the storage tank, causing the explosion. A firewall around the storage tank site contained spilled fluids, which were picked up with by a vacuum truck.

No violations of RRC rules were found, and the High Roller Well LLC lease is in compliance with Commission rules. As injuries were reported in this incident, the lead investigating agency for this incident would be the federal agency, OSHA, which needs to be contacted for further information.”

Comments

  • Blake

    Fracking is a dangerous unregulated activity protected by the “Halliburton loophole”. http://www.nofracktexas.com

    • Kim

      are you kidding me?  there are so many regulations in the oil and gas industry it is a wonder America still functions!!!!  are you Blake even in Texas?  Thanks to fracking my whole family functions…. in every aspect the men and women that work at and for live in Texas if someone dies there is a 90 percent chance it is a child, father, brother, or friend that is gone forever… since you are so interested in regulations why not regulate welding since sparks can hit toxins and blow u….. wait wouldn’t that shut down what made America great to begin with? iron, coal, industry!!!! the reason America is in such a mess is because MAN UP stop existing…. u need to get your big girl panties on and stop America from being a welfare, you owe me country…. as we say in Texas COWBOY UP!!!!!

  • Someone

    Everyone is reporting that it was 3 who got injured. The media needs to be corrected, it was a total of 4.

    • Kim

      no it was only 3

  • Anonymous

    Here in TX, where they boast about Oil and LNG, there are some who will overlook fires and deaths at these sites as “a business decision” and that Texans / land / water cost are expendable.  These same people whine about having to release a list of chemicals (saying they are a secret), regardless of the fact that basic chemicals are just that.  What this list of chemicals does not give citizens is what they really need, which is how are they combined so that we actually know what is being used. It is like saying that flour, water, yeast, salt, sugar are just combined in unmeasured amounts and voila, bread.    Naysayer’s will say ” trust us”.  And TX lawmaker’s nodded their bobble-heads.  How many explosions / fires / deaths will have to be reported before everyone realizes that these “N=1″ events are a trend?  

    • FracDog

      OSHA regulates how all businesses of the Industrail and Petroleum industries operate whens it comes to safety.  Like any other job out there, regulations and safety standards are put in place to keep things from happening.  We as individuals choose abide by these regulations or not.  Things go wrong like mechanical failure, electrical failure, and many other forms of failure.  Have we ever discussed what is used to generate all many of the things that we use on a regular basis.  Like driving a car, the home we live in, the fuel that runs many of our machines.  The list goes on and on.  Chemicals used in Fracturing are nothing compared to what is used by different plants and refineries. 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/R3QD6J7A6KIH2Z7BMUZMX2DH5A Ricardo M

    well I think the (RRC) don.t really did a good investigation ! ? because noone of the employees was welding at all at the time of the explosion,the question of the day? why bobody ask the employyes how really happened the explosion ?

  • FracDog

    THis article is SO wrong!  The facility was a Salt Water Disposal well.  Hydraulic Fracturing had nothing to do with this.  SWD wells are there to store water that comes from different wells.  Fluid can come from drilling rigs, flowback water during final production, and frac jobs.  I have been in the Frac business for 13 years and can’t stand how people are misinformed on how this process effects our way of life when our way of life is due in part to this process.  Get the story straight people! 

    • http://stateimpact.npr.org/texas/author/thenry/ Terrence Henry

      Thanks for reading, FracDog. The facility disposes of fluid from fracking operations. That’s stated clearly by OSHA in their news release this week on the violations by High Roller Wells. “The company disposes of hydraulic fracturing fluid and employs about 34 workers at the site,” the OSHA release states. “At the time of the incident, employees were injecting wastewater underground that was left over from hydraulic fracturing and drilling operations.” Hydraulic fracturing had plenty to do with this incident, as the boom in Eagle Ford (due to the implementation of fracking) has necessitated more and more disposal of fracking fluids.

      As we report in the article above:

      “The OSHA area director echoes that sentiment. “We have a lot of producers and workers that are out there trying to get up and running as fast as they can,” Funke says. “And we have a lot of folks that are new to the oilfield industry.” Small, new companies like High Roller Wells are where the industry has the most issues, says Funke. “It’s not that they’re knowingly or willfully doing things wrong, but there’s so much work, they want to get up and going. That’s the real issue here.”

      Another issue is that as drilling and fuel exploration boom in the Eagle Ford, accidents are becoming more common. “Last year we had three fires related to oil and gas in [neighboring] Atascosa County,” says Funke. The Pearsall Volunteer Fire Department Chief who responded to the fire, Placido Aguilar, says they’ve responded to two other incidents in the past six months, “and they [drillers] say they’re gonna be here for a while.”

      You can read more here:

      http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=NEWS_RELEASES&p_id=22227

      And here:

      http://stateimpact.npr.org/texas/2012/04/25/high-roller-wells-cited-for-serious-violations-after-pearsall-explosion/

      Thanks again for reading.

  • C4future

    The cover-up is the poison that is released in the air, especially during an oil fire.  I know, as those that were effected and died or nearly died from a fracking accident.

About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »

Economy
Education