Investigation of XTO well blast in Powhatan Point continues


Staff writer

Belmont County is slowly returning to normalcy in the aftermath of a well pad explosion on Feb. 15 near Powhatan Point, but the cleanup process continues.

XTO Energy spokeswoman Karen Matusic spoke to the Belmont County commissioners during a Wednesday meeting and commended the people of Belmont County, the elected officials and first responders, as well as charities such as the Salvation Army.

“Now what we’re working on is the investigative phase. The regulators are out there with our guys. Nobody wants to get to the bottom of this more than us, to see what went wrong and what were the lessons learned,” Matusic said.

At this point, there is no timetable for when the investigators might have details about what went wrong. She added that spring will provide further opportunity to determine any long-term environmental impact of the incident.

“The good news is, any water testing and air testing has shown nothing that would be harmful to the environment or to people and animals,” she said, adding state regulators have looked at water and air samples and found no evidence of contamination.

Matusic added that since the well was finally capped last week, as of Saturday the restoration of the 30 evacuated households in a 1-mile radius of the pad now is complete.

In addition, XTO’s claims department will be on hand locally at the Powhatan Point Volunteer Fire Department for about two more weeks to make certain there are no outstanding claims.

“They’re going to take care of everyone,” she said. “We bought a number of generators in case there is power outage. We don’t anticipate that. American Electric Power worked with us hand in hand to get that power restored. We wanted to make sure after we capped the well that they had a full night of power.”

Matusic said XTO also was occupied in seeing to landscaping needs, as well as replacing the carpeting at the Clair Mar golf course, which XTO used as a headquarters during the operation.

“We worked with the local businesses to (address) any lost wages, any lost revenue,” she said.

She also said there is no truth to rumors on social media that individuals seeking claims were required to sign agreements not to sue.

“That is absolutely not true,” she said. “We don’t want people to think that if we’re going to pay for their groceries or pay for their hotel, then ‘we have no rights.’ … Anyone with any claims, please continue to bring them in.”

Matusic also said XTO is making a long-term investment in the area.

“We’ll be here for the long run, as you know. We have plans to drill in here and we want to do it safe. We want to do it right. We believe in Belmont County. We believe in the Utica Shale. XTO takes a very long view,” she said.

The Rev. Michael Ziebarth, who has said the county, related agencies and XTO must use this incident as an opportunity to look more closely at safeguards and response issues to prevent future accidents, noted XTO’s response to the well pad explosion was beyond reproach.

“This was done, as far as I could see, as efficiently and as professionally as I could possibly ask for,” Ziebarth said.

Any local residents who may have been impacted by this incident are encouraged to call XTO Energy’s claims phone number at (855) 351-6573 or visit XTO Energy’s community response command center at the Powhatan VFD located at 104 Mellott St.