Flame atop Utica well

LORDSTOWN – Residents living near a Utica Shale natural gas well were surprised to wake after midnight Tuesday to a massive flame bursting from the newly drilled and hydraulically fractured well here.

The sight was drawing some attention throughout the day Tuesday as motorists driving by on Brunstetter Road slowed to gaze at the flame reaching almost to the treetops. In a nearby mobile home park, a geologist by trade pulled up to snap photos.

Saying he was more curious than anything, the man, who declined to give his name, said his job that relates to drilling of shallow natural gas wells brought him to the area, and he was curious to check it out.

The process, known as “flaring,” is the controlled burn of natural gas and is a common practice in the oil and gas industry, according to information provided by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. Flares are often used early in the process before the well goes into full production. The flare typically burns around the clock for several days to test the well’s productivity and to stabilize its pressure.

This one is expected to burn for two to three weeks, said Vince Bevacqua, local spokesman for Houston-based Halcon Resources, which owns the well named the “Kibler.”

Testing began Saturday, Bevacqua said, but the flame did not erupt until early Tuesday morning because that is when enough natural gas built up in the line, he explained.

“It’s a 24-hour test, and once it starts, it runs until it’s done,” Bevacqua said. “The Kibler will likely test for two to three weeks, then it will be shut back in to wait for its facilities.”

Those facilities will include a well head and access to new gathering pipelines which crews were busy laying along Brunstetter Road Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s an inconvenience, to be sure, but it’s temporary,” Bevacqua said.

Despite the promise that this is temporary, the process wasn’t sitting too well with Pat McCrudden who lives a stone’s throw from the well.

McCrudden, an opponent to the gas-drilling industry, had been vocal about the noise and lights while the well was being drilled earlier this year.

“This has been a real trip,” she said Tuesday. “I have had two months of peace and quiet, and here we go again.”

As she stood on her back deck watching puffs of dark smoke rise from the large stack, McCrudden questioned the safety of the emissions.

In response, Bevacqua said Halcon complies with all industry standards set by the Ohio EPA and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

“It’s an unusual sight, especially if you have never seen it before, but it’s a normal part of oil and gas exploration, and they are not at risk of anything dangerous,” Bevacqua said.

Ohio EPA spokesman Mike Settles said burning the fuel is the safest way to release the pressure.

“It’s not like there’s no emissions coming off the flare, but it’s greatly reduced,” Settles said, comparing the burned fuel to openly allowing the gases to dissipate into the air. Doing that, he said, would release volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere.

“We see it as the safest alternative,” Settles said.