Schwab City blowout forces evacuations
Polk County Enterprise, May 2007
SCHWAB CITY — A blow-out in a non-pressurized well on Bird Lane in Schwab City Sunday afternoon, forced the evacuation of about 50 nearby residents and closing Texas 146 for over 24 hours.
Emergency Management Coordinator Kenneth Hambrick said crews had been working on the well for couple of weeks, but no workers were at the site when a gas pocket formed and caused the blowout.
Initially, workers thought they could block out the well and stop the flow of water and natural gas out of the well, Hambrick said. Hambrick ordered families that live nearby to shelter in place to avoid contact with any hazardous materials.
The well, owned by Kevin Merritt, could not be blocked and Hambrick ordered the families to evacuate and closed a half-mile section of Texas 146.
"I was not worried about air quality," Hambrick said. "If the gas had ignited, it could have radiated quite a distance."
Emergency responders included the Polk County Sheriff's Office, Department of Public Safety, Texas Department of Transportation and firefighters from Livingston and South Polk County fire departments, Hambrick said.
A crew members from a Cudd Well Control was visiting family at the time of the blowout and the well owner asked for their assistance in plugging the well.
The gas was escaping from a damaged casing valve, according to David Thompson, a division manager for Cudd.
"During the night, the crew decided to sting the well," Thompson said. "At daylight they inserted a piece of pipe into where it was blowing out and pumped fluid into it."
Crews finished control efforts early Monday afternoon.
"It wasn't a very big job," Thompson said. "There are all kinds of techniques you use for blowout. Once you get it killed, you can change the valve and everything is fine."
Downhole issues can cause wells to build up pressure for a variety of reasons, regardless of the age of the well, Thompson said.
Thompson and Hambrick said the owner was very cooperative with assisting families affected by the blowout.
Since there is no local Red Cross representative, Hambrick called in a Red Cross team from Baytown who provided food and lodging for 15 families at an area motel.
Red Cross workers also provided food and water for emergency crews.
Hambrick said the Texas Railroad Commission and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality sent employees to the site.
The Railroad Commission staff member said the danger posed by the blown out well, on a scale of 1 to 10, was a 10 — the greatest danger, Hambrick said.
"Any spark could have set it off," Hambrick said. "It could have been a major disaster at any time until it was capped, blocked and plugged in."
During the event, the sheriff's department called in off-duty personnel to assist with evacuation. Commissioners Tommy Overstreet and Bob Willis called in their road and bridge crews to grade a section of road so that additional equipment could be brought to the well site.