$120k Fine Set in Cellphone Tank Blast


A Texas oil company has been fined $120,000 in a storage-tank explosion sparked by a worker's cellphone, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has announced.

The blast occurred Jan. 11, when a driver for contractor Somerset Regional Water Resources climbed on top of the tank to check its production-fluid level at Cabot Oil & Gas Corp.'s Reynolds well pad in Susquehanna County, PA.

The driver used his phone as a flashlight, which somehow ignited vapors in the tank's headspace, triggering an explosion and subsequent rupture of the tank.

'Serious Incident'

"This was a serious incident that injured an employee and resulted in a spill of approximately 2,835 gallons of production fluid from a 21,000-gallon storage tank," said John Ryder, DEP Director of District Oil and Gas Operations.

The unidentified worker suffered burns in the incident but was able to return to work a short time later, Cabot spokesman George Stark in an emailed statement.

Houston-based Cabot has a regional office in Pittsburgh, PA, and district offices throughout Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Texas.

Somerset Regional Water Resources was not fined. The water and well site support service provider has several Pennsylvania locations.

Cleanup Efforts

DEP Emergency Response staff responded to the incident, and Cabot immediately shut in the wells and brought in vacuum trucks to clean up the spilled water, according to the field inspection report.

"Some of this fluid escaped containment and impacted soil off the well pad," Ryder said.

Follow-up inspections were conducted, and sampling from an interception trench off the well pad showed "high levels of constituents associated with produced water," according to the DEP.

Cabot remediated the spill with oversight by the DEP Northeast Regional Environmental Cleanup and Brownsfields program.

cellphone tank explosion

The unidentified worker reportedly used his cellphone as a flashlight to check the tank's production fluid level, which somehow ignited the vapors.

"We undertook a detailed investigation into the incident, working closely with technical experts and regulatory agencies to fully understand the situation," Stark said.


The DEP issued a notice of violation letter Jan. 17 to Cabot, citing violations of the Oil and Gas Act, the Solid Waste Management Act, and the Clean Streams Law.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration also launched an inspection Jan. 14 and issued one serious violation against Cabot related to flammable and combustible liquids. Records show the oil company was fined $7,000 after an informal settlement.

OSHA records also show a Jan. 14 inspection of Somerset Regional Water Resources. That case was closed without citations.

Adding Safety Measures

Stark said that Cabot's "top priority is safe, reliable operations" and that the company constantly "assess[es] and reassess[es] our policies and procedures."

"As a result of our review of this incident, we have implemented additional safeguards into our design and construction practices across our operations, and we continue to work toward our goal of zero incidents and maintaining a safe, reliable workplace," Stark said.


Tagged categories: Environmental Protection; Explosions; Health & Safety; Health and safety; North America; Oil and Gas; Tanks

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