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Chesapeake Battles Out-of-Control Marcellus Gas Well

Chesapeake Energy Corp. is trying to regain control of a natural-gas well in rural Pennsylvania that erupted yesterday, spilling chemically treated water into a creek and prompting evacuations of nearby residents.

A crew was in the process of fracturing a well near Leroy Township when the incident occurred at about 11:45 p.m., said Bob Barnes, a spokesman for the Bradford County Emergency Management Agency. The well site is 150 miles (240 kilometers) northwest of Philadelphia.

Chesapeake, the most active U.S. driller, said in an e-mailed statement the accident was caused by an equipment failure and that “completion fluids” were spilled. The spill occurred while the well was undergoing a process called hydraulic fracturing, said Katy Gresh, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Also called fracking, the method uses a mixture of water, sand and chemicals injected under high pressure to fracture dense rock and release oil and gas.

An undetermined amount of the fluid flowed from the well site into a tributary of Towanda Creek, which feeds into the Susquehanna River, Gresh said in a telephone interview.

Chesapeake has now contained the spill to the drill site, Gresh said. She didn’t have specific information on which chemicals were being used.

“The well is still not under control yet,” Gresh said.

Boots & Coots

Boots & Coots International Well Control, a division of Halliburton Co. that specializes in taming out-of-control oil and gas wells, has been mobilized to respond if necessary, Chesapeake said in its statement.

No one was reported injured; seven families have been evacuated from the area as a precaution, Chesapeake said.

State environmental regulators are taking samples from the creek and plan to test private water wells in the area to monitor for contamination, Gresh said.

Chesapeake and other gas producers have been trying to ease public concerns about hydraulic fracturing. Environmentalists have said that fracking, or the disposal of fracturing fluid, can contaminate water supplies.

Industry groups say they only use tiny amounts of chemicals and contamination is not a risk. The Groundwater Protection Council, a coalition of state agencies, began a campaign last week to disclose the chemicals used in each well.

Chesapeake, based in Oklahoma City, rose 1 cent to $32.22 at 5 p.m. in after-hours trading in New York.

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