Monday, September 16, 2019

Guyana: Illegal well causes natural gas explosion

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Guyana Chronicle:-  THE drilling of a well at Fourth Street, Sixth Avenue, Diamond, East Bank Demerara over the last couple of days was responsible for a natural gas explosion which started late Thursday afternoon and continued on Friday.

The explosion saw large quantities of mud and water spurting several metres into the air on Thursday night. The well was being dug in the backyard of a family who did not have the permission to do so. The combination of earth and water which was sent shooting out of the hole did have some impact on the structural integrity of the house located in the yard where the drilling was taking place. There are concerns about the shifting of houses and if those concerns escalate, there may be a need to evacuate, according to the Civil Defence Commission (CDC), one of the agencies monitoring the situation.

This newspaper understands that the persons who were digging the well were unaware of the depth they should have gone and that shortly after drilling some 120 feet into the ground, they hit a pocket of natural gas. The gas pushed the water and mud into the air and had the natural gas lingering in the atmosphere for a considerable time between Thursday evening and late into Friday.

The incident prompted an immediate inter-agency approach, inclusive of the Guyana Police Force, Guyana Fire Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, Guyana Water Incorporated, Civil Defence Commission, ExxonMobil and the Massy Group of Companies.

On Thursday evening, there was still uncertainty about the development which mirrored a similar occurrence back in 2009 in another section of the community. However by mid-morning Friday, ExxonMobil, Massy and the Guyana Water Inc. all confirmed some amount of natural gas being present in the atmosphere after tests they had carried out individually.

Speaking with the press at the location on Friday, acting Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency, Khemraj Parsram, confirmed the presence of natural gas in the atmosphere. He said that his agency after arriving at the location Thursday night took initial steps along with the other stakeholders to cordon off the area until the tests had been done.

Parsram said that from initial detection there was no indication that the gas in the atmosphere was of a high concentration, but rather it represented small pockets which occur naturally and asked persons not to be alarmed, but that they should be cautious.

He continued by stating that the gas comes from the high organic content over the years which was associated with geological features of the area. The gas, he explained, is trapped below the surface of the earth and becomes exposed once a hole is dug to a certain depth, as was the case on Thursday. “This situation…is similar to that of a few years ago, but it is obvious that this thing is present here, so we will have to look to see what can be done in this area” stated the EPA executive.

Asked if he would recommend identifying a portion of land in the said Diamond area where exploration for the gas could be done and once discovered, identify its quantity to either generate electricity or put to some other use, Parsram declined to give a definitive answer, as he said any such approach would have to come following discussions with the other relevant agencies.

Meanwhile, Head of the Civil Defence Commission, Colonel Kester Craig, reiterated that the situation is being monitored.

“We said that the tests which were carried out also found some amount of hydrogen sulfur and [it was recommended] that the electricity to the immediate surroundings be disconnected, vehicle ignitions not be turned on, [and] ignitable objects and items not be used in and around the general area,” Craig said.

With respect to the cleaning-up exercise, Craig said that is secondary at this point as more emphasis was being placed on ensuring that the situation was contained.
When the Guyana Chronicle visited the location on Friday, residents said that they were not aware that a well was being dug in the yard of the persons where the eruption occurred.
Up to late Friday, there were still eruption activities taking place at the site. A scan of the environment found that the water and mud, mostly was splashed on the roofs, walls and compounds of nearby residents.

During our visit, the occupants of the home were removing their household items and other belongings, even as they were advised to avoid dwelling on the premises in the interim.

Back in 2009 when there was a similar occurrence, the government had wanted the residents of the affected property to relocate, but the compensation package which the family was being offered was not sufficient, as they had already developed the property.

Today that family enjoys natural gas for cooking after the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission stepped in and trapped the gas which now leads to the family’s gas stove.
AN1-0130 EPA Executive Director Khemraj Parsram makes a point to ExxonMobil’s Country Manager Rod Henson at the scene on Friday morning


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