CLARKSVILLE, Pa. (AP) — State authorities have announced charges against a company in connection with a natural gas explosion that leveled a home and injured a family in western Pennsylvania five years ago.
Attorney General Michelle Henry said Wednesday that the criminal complaint alleges that methane gas in an underground storage reservoir owned and operated by Equitrans LP migrated up into a deteriorating storage well owned by the company and eventually reached the home in Greene County , which led to the explosion.
Natural gas storage fields like Equitrans’ Pratt field allow companies to store gas underground and extract it during times of high demand, such as the winter months. But Henry said the company has long acknowledged in federal filings “that the Pratt field is losing gas and that wells within the field are likely leaking.”
Henry said the company was indicted on the recommendation of a grand jury on felony and misdemeanor charges of violating the state’s Clean Water Streams Act for failing to properly maintain a storage well and failing to conduct a stray gas survey after the explosion, Henry said.
The Halloween morning explosion in 2018 occurred when a Clarksville man turned on the stove to prepare a meal for his 4-year-old son. Authorities said the man briefly fell unconscious and then ran upstairs to free his girlfriend and the boy from collapsed parts of the house and take them outside. All three suffered burns and the explosion destroyed the building.
Henry apologized to family members, who she said were present but said nothing, and said the family had no idea the underground field existed when they bought the home. She pointed to pictures of the leveled house and called it “a true miracle” that all three people managed to get out of the house alive.
“Every citizen deserves to feel safe in their own home, regardless of the environmental dangers caused by large corporations,” she said.
Equitrans on Tuesday disputed the grand jury’s conclusion, saying it has cooperated fully with the agency’s investigation and believes the evidence it presented “indeed establishes that Equitrans’ operations were not the cause of the incident,” spokeswoman Natalie said Cox.
“We are reviewing the complaint in its entirety and will fully defend our position on this matter,” she said.
TheThe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported thisEarlier this year, a report from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection last year said the source of the gas could not be conclusively determined, but named Equitrans and Peoples Natural Gas as two likely candidates. Although the report was not made public, it was included in the family’s legal action.
But the state jury blamed Equitrans, citing testimony from current and former officials and industry consultants. The jury said methane gas polluting the home’s water well came from below the 23-foot well, while gas from a supply line was well above it, the Post-Gazette reported.
Henry said Equitrans had a policy of applying a gel to storage wells every few years to prevent corrosion, but this was rarely done “for budget or staffing reasons,” according to a company official. She said stressed or dead vegetation was found near the home that could indicate gas leaks, and investigators found that the nearby well’s main valve was leaking “large amounts” of methane, which company employees didn’t notice .
“Had Equitrans done their due diligence and noticed the signs of a gas leak, they may have been able to stop the leak before this disaster,” Henry said. Equitrans was charged with prohibiting the discharge of industrial waste, prohibiting other pollution and two counts of unlawful conduct under the Clean Water Streams Act, officials said.