Company: Leak at gas storage in Pennsylvania properly sealed

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The operator of a Western Pennsylvania natural gas storage well says workers successfully plugged a leak that had spewed massive amounts of planet-warming methane into the atmosphere for two weeks.

Equitrans Midstream said the well at its storage facility in Rager Mountain, located in a rural area about 1.5 hours east of Pittsburgh, was sealed with concrete on Sunday. Initial estimates said the well had discharged about 100 million cubic feet of natural gas per day since Nov. 6.

If correct, that would total more than 1.4 billion cubic feet of methane, equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from burning more than 7,200 tanker trucks of gasoline.

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Environmental regulators in Pennsylvania have notified the company of five possible state law violations.

A written statement provided by Equitrans on Sunday says the company had verified a 0% gas reading at and around the well. More than 250 feet of cement was pumped above two plugs in the wellbore to ensure that venting does not reoccur, the company said.

The Rager facility is located in Jackson Township, in the heart of the Marcellus Shale formation which has experienced a boom in gas production since the introduction of hydraulic fracturing more than a decade ago. Residents who lived within four miles of the leak told The UK Time News on Friday they could hear the roar of pressurized gas escaping from the well and smell the fumes.

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Methane, the main component of natural gas, is colorless and odorless. But when the gas is processed for transport and sale, producers add a chemical called mercaptan to give it a distinctive “rotten egg” smell that makes people aware of leaks.

The global warming potential of methane is about 83 times stronger in 20 years than the carbon dioxide that comes from car exhaust pipes and power plant chimneys. Oil and gas companies are the main industrial emitters of methane, which, once released into the atmosphere, will disrupt the climate for decades and contribute to more heat waves, hurricanes, wildfires and floods.

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The leak came as the Environmental Protection Agency on Nov. 11 updated proposed new rules designed to reduce methane and other harmful emissions from oil and gas operations.

The citations issued against the company by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection include failure to properly maintain and operate the gas facility, cause a public nuisance, and produce a “danger to public health and safety.” The company was also cited for not providing state inspectors with “free and unrestricted access”.

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Biesecker reported from Washington.

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