Couples sue for gas well explosion injuries

By Kyla Asbury | May 3, 2012

MOUNDSVILLE – Two couples are suing AB Resources PA, LLC after they claim the company is responsible for injuries sustained because of a gas well explosion.

John W. and Mary Alice Miller; Chief Oil and Gas, LLC; SedCo Consulting, LLC; Union Drilling, Inc.; and BJ Services Company were also named as defendants in the suit.

On May 12, 2010, Union Drilling moved Rig #43 onto the Witzgall #1 well site to rig up for the drilling of Witzgall #1 well and drilling on the #1 well commenced soon after, according to two complaints filed April 18 in Marshall Circuit Court.

Brian Cavanaugh and Andrew L. Billings, both of New York, were employed by Union Drilling and claim as the defendants were drilling the Witzgall #1 well they lost circulation and hit a void at an approximate depth of 635 feet when they drilled through an abandoned underground coal mine, which was located at a much shallower depth than indicated on the drilling permit.

After drilling through the abandoned underground coal mine, methane gas flowed from the well for approximately 14 hours and the defendants ordered the drilling to "go cold" and ordered all electrical sources and lighting on the rig to be shut off, according to the suits.

The plaintiffs claim nonetheless, despite the presence of methane gas, the defendants instructed the crew to continue drilling until the Witzgall #1 well was completed on May 31, 2010 at a total depth of 10,607 feet.

On June 4, 2010, Rig #43 was skidded from Witzgall #1 to the Witzgall #2 well to begin drilling operations, according to the suits.

The plaintiffs claim Witzgall #2 is located approximately 10 feet from Witzgall #1 and because of this, the defendants had actual knowledge that they would encounter methane gas during the drilling of the Witzgall #2 well at the approximate depth they encountered it during the drilling of the first well.

Despite this knowledge, the defendants failed to notify the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Agency and failed to submit a supplemental casing plan for approval, according to the suits.

The plaintiffs claim the defendants further failed to take appropriate additional safety measures and precautions to account for the presence of methane gas prior to drilling the Witzgall #2 well.

On June 6, 2010, as the defendants were drilling the Witzgall #2 well, they drilled through "bad spots" and lost circulation at approximately 670 feet, according to the suits, and thereafter, the defendants encountered significant amounts of methane gas, which began to flow out of the well and onto the rig floor.

Cavanaugh and Billings claim drilling work continued and on June 7, 2010, at approximately 12 a.m., the crew removed the air bowl rubber from the well hole in order to continue tripping drill collars, a stabilizer and a hammer bit that were in the hole.

"With the air bowl rubber removed, the well continued to pour out methane gas onto the rig floor and surrounding areas," the complaints state. "During this time, debris...blew 4 to 5 feet in the air and methane gas continued to accumulate on and around the rig floor."

The plaintiffs claim despite the unsafe conditions, the defendants again failed to evacuate the area and instructed the crew to continue working.

At approximately 1:18 a.m. on June 7, 2010 while the crew members were continuing to trip the pipe out of the well, the methane gas ignited, triggering a massive fire and explosion with flames more than 70 feet high and resulting in a total loss to the drilling rig and surrounding dog house structures, according to the suits, and the flames burned for approximately five days after the explosion.

The plaintiffs claim all seven members of the crew working on the rig floor were burned in the explosion and resulting fire.

The defendants failed to control ignition sources near highly combustible and/or flammable gases at the well site and failed to use explosion-proof lighting on the well site, despite the presence of methane gas, according to the suits.

Cavanaugh, Billings and their wives, Tabitha Cavanaugh and Bernadine Billings, are seeking compensatory and punitive damages with pre- and post-judgment interest. They are being represented by Robert P. Fitzsimmons, Clayton J. Fitzsimmons and Robert B. Warner.

The cases have been assigned to Circuit Judges David W. Hummel Jr. and Mark A. Karl.

Marshall Circuit Court case numbers: 12-C-75, 12-C-76

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