Flowback spill leads to tension between residents and well operators in Tunkhannock Pennsylvania


State officials have said initial testing revealed no threats to human health.

Well operator Carrizo Marcellus is still trying to determine exactly what caused a wastewater spill that occurred last week near Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania. Several families that live near the well in question temporarily evacuated their homes after finding out about the spill, which reportedly involved more than 250,000 gallons of "flowback" fluids.

One resident, Paul Ruhf, told NPR's Marie Cusick that, upon returning to his home, he found four cases of fresh water sitting on his porch. They were furnished by Carrizo Marcellus. The company has also promised to conduct water testing for any households in the neighborhood that request the service.

While this effort is doubtlessly appreciated by the citizens of Tunkhannock, it certainly brings to mind the old phrase about "closing the barn door after the horse is gone." All parties would clearly have been better served by a proactive strategy that sought to prevent a spill, rather than a reactive attempt to make amends.

What happened and how could it have been prevented?

According to a report from NPR, workers were in the final stages of a fracking operation when an equipment malfunction took place, causing frac flowback – a mixture of chemicals, water and sand – to begin spraying out of the well at high velocity. Initially, 800 gallons were evacuating the well each minute.

Some water reportedly made its way onto an access road near the well. However, Carrizo Marcellus asserted that most of the fluids were contained on-site, while the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has said that its initial air and water quality tests have not shown any risks to human health. The agency will conduct additional testing in the near future.

This incident exemplifies the need for well operators to make sure they are using, and appropriately maintaining, the best oil production equipment for whatever situation they are in. Making use of the right solutions is of paramount importance when it comes to preventing spills, leaks and other types of accidents.

For instance, installing a hydraulic jet pump can be extremely helpful for energy companies. This versatile equipment can aid producers in managing frac flowback in a safe and efficient manner. Furthermore, hydraulic lift can be used on ongoing basis during pumping operations to ensure that oil and gas wells are able to achieve maximum output.

What makes jet pumps particularly useful for producers is that they can even be used in wells where problems with the casing make the use of other artificial lift solutions impractical.