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Blown Fracking Well in Louisiana on Fire Since August 30, Could Burn for Another Month

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A fracked gas well in northwest Louisiana that blew out August 30 was still on fire as of September 12, and was expected to keep burning for another month until a relief well can be built, DeSmog Blog reported [1] last week.

DeSmog carried drone footage of the blaze, which began the day after the well was drilled. At first, “a tower of flames reportedly shot into the air that could be seen from more than 30 miles away. While the flames are no longer as intense, the fire is still visible from a distance of more than a mile.”

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The blowout is raising concerns about local health and safety, particularly because of the length of time the well has been burning.

“Blowouts are (unintended) large, uncontrolled pollutant sources with potentially significant health and environmental consequences,” wrote Texas A&M University atmospheric scientist Gunnar Schade. “Blowouts need to be shut down as soon as possible.”

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) says the blowout and fire present no major air quality concerns, with spokesperson Greg Langley describing the scene as “a very low-impact event”. He told DeSmog that “the well is clean, it’s gas, and what is being released is being consumed in the fire.”

Earthworks Texas Coordinator Sharon Wilson called that notion “laughable”, adding that “even without my optical gas imaging camera, I know there are air impacts because I can see them with my naked eyes.” Based on the drone footage, she said, “you can see that the gas coming up is not all being burned off, and the plume of smoke and gases is travelling a very far distance.”

Wilson said the gap in the state’s daily air monitoring reports might be remedied by mounting air sampling equipment on a drone and sending it up above the fire and the leaking well. “The problem is the plume is up much higher than an LDEQ inspector standing on the ground holding a MultiRae meter,” she said.

DeSmog notes that methane, the main component of natural gas, is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after it enters the atmosphere. That alone makes the Louisiana blowout “a huge deal,” Wilson said. “We are at the climate breaking point, and no one can even say how much methane is blasting into the air.”

Schade said the available satellite data show the burning well generating three times as much heat as the largest flares burning off “surplus” gas in the fracking fields of Texas’ Permian Basin. “According to his estimates, this burning well may be releasing approximately 8,700 pounds of nitrogen oxides, pollutants that lead to smog and acid rain, each day,” DeSmog writes.

“The emissions from such a source can be enormous,” Schade told reporter Julie Dermansky.