Jan 10, 2009 Doug Campbell Uncategorized
After a natural gas rig fire in Smyrna New Years Eve, local officials feel like they are being kept in the dark.
“I have not been contacted by anyone, either from the gas company or the DEC or our county,” said Smyrna Supervisor James Bays Jan. 7, a week after the fire on Chenango County Route 22 in Smyrna.
Bays was alerted the night of the fire by another supervisor from the town of Preston.
“He called me to ask if I was going to the fire, and I asked, ‘What fire?'” Bays said.
Smyrna, Sherburne, Earlville, Plymouth and Georgetown fire departments responded to the blaze. Smyrna Fire Chief Norm Wynn was pleased with the handling of the fire. It was the first time they had to deal with a rig fire, he said.
“I thought all in all everything went smooth,” Wynn said.
Bays was largely concerned by a lack of communication about the incident.
“The emergency management office should have gotten in contact with us,” he said. “It’s a little distressing not to know.”
Town of Lebanon Supervisor Jim Goldstein expressed similar concerns.
“I am three miles down the road from where this incident took place,” said Goldstein. “No one called me, no one informed me.”
There are about 50 similar wells in Lebanon, Goldstein said.
“Once I found out about this, I notified the [state Department of Environmental Conservation],” Goldstein said.
According to Goldstein, he has had not heard back from the DEC.
“I’m wondering why it seems we always have to initiate these things,” Goldstein said.
Goldstein was also concerned with the preparedness of local fire crews to handle such incidents.
“What is the likelihood of more incidents like this?” he asked.
According to Chenango County Fire Coordinator Matt Beckwith, several local fire departments have met and taken tours with safety officials from Nornew, the natural gas exploration and development company that owns the rig.
Madison County Fire Coordinator Joe DeFrancisco said that local departments are well-trained and well-equipped to handle rig fires. He also said that it was important to differentiate between gas well fires and other kinds of fires that might be associated with the site of gas drilling.
Local fire departments are trained to handle the latter, he said, but there are others with expertise who could be flown in to assist with an actual gas well fire.
“Gas exploration tends to go on in somewhat remote areas, so when they burn, generally, they don’t expose other things,” DeFrancisco said. “So they’re treated defensively.”
In such a scenario, first-responders let them burn until someone with special expertise puts them out, DeFrancisco said.
For Bays, the lack of communication is of great concern.
“This is a foreign activity,” Bays said. “We’ve only had natural gas in Smyrna for a year now, and it’s an activity we’re not familiar with. We just want to get some straight answers.”