"Hours passed before cow deaths reported"

Read Hours passed before cow deaths reported by Alisa Stingley:

When no state agency would take responsibility for determining the cause of death of the cows, Prator concluded that chemicals in the spill killed the cows.

The regional DEQ office found elevated chlorides, a salt, as well as oil and grease and some organic compounds in soil and water tests. Potassium chloride can be added to the fluids used during stages of the hydraulic fracturing process used to reach natural gas trapped in underground shale.


Chesapeake Energy Corp. waited five hours before notifying the state of a spill from a well site onto a south Caddo pasture that apparently killed 17 cows April 28, according to Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality files.

Chesapeake Energy, the largest competitor in the Haynesville Shale natural gas play in northwest Louisiana, also never notified the Caddo sheriff’s office, which learned of the incident through neighbors. Local authorities, such as police or sheriff’s offices, are supposed to be notified first when there is an environmental incident, according to DEQ.

These are among findings in Caddo Sheriff Steve Prator’s investigation into the deaths of the cows. His report has been sent to the Caddo district attorney’s office, state police, DEQ and the state Natural Resources Department. It’s up to the district attorney whether to pursue the issue of timeliness of notification, Prator said, though he did not know what criminal charges might apply in this situation.

No official cause of the cattle deaths has been made public. DEQ’s enforcement division has the case under review.

Spokesmen for Chesapeake Energy and contractor Schlumberger would not answer The Times’ questions about the incident, saying it is under DEQ investigation. However, the spokesmen — Kevin McCotter for Chesapeake Energy and Stephen Harris for Schlumberger, sent a statement by e-mail to The Times saying both companies are cooperating and “the owners of the adjacent property and cattle have been compensated for their damage and loss and no other claims have been made over the incident.”

The statement also says the companies are “proactively evaluating and improving operational processes so that the repetition of such an incident can be avoided.”

Prator said he met with the company officials to firmly state what he expects in the event of any future spill at a well site. “We have discussed that with them, and we don’t want this to happen again. We want to be notified very quickly.”

He added: “This was a learning experience for everybody. We are going to take everything they do extremely seriously.”

When no state agency would take responsibility for determining the cause of death of the cows, Prator concluded that chemicals in the spill killed the cows.

The regional DEQ office found elevated chlorides, a salt, as well as oil and grease and some organic compounds in soil and water tests. Potassium chloride can be added to the fluids used during stages of the hydraulic fracturing process used to reach natural gas trapped in underground shale.

In a letter dated June 16 and in DEQ public files, Chesapeake Energy official Steve Turk summarizes what happened April 28 and includes a chronology of events. The chronology begins at 3:30 p.m. April 28, with “fourth stage of a ‘frac’ was completed.”

At 4 p.m.: “The presence of dead cows in an adjacent pasture was reported by Superior Well Services’ Field Service Division personnel to a Chesapeake representative, a Chesapeake consultant and a Schlumberger representative. Superior is a well completion consultant for Chesapeake.”

At 4:30 p.m.: “The Schlumberger on-site supervisor began collecting surface water samples.”

At 5 p.m.: “Owners of the cattle, Cecil and Tyler Williams, were notified and an on-site meeting was scheduled with both.”

At 5:15 p.m.: “Mr. Cecil Williams and a Chesapeake representative met on location and discovered that 10 head of cattle were dead and an additional four were sick. Mr. Williams made arrangements for a crew to construct a fence around an area of standing water adjacent to the well pad.”

At 6:45 p.m.: “Additional Chesapeake personnel were on location to evaluate the situation. An environmental consultant for Chesapeake arrived on location to collect surface water samples.”

At 7:15 p.m.: “The Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies, notified by local residents, arrived on location and began assessing the situation. The Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Office HAZMAT team was dispatched to the site.”

At this point the HAZMAT team requested that a levee be built around the area of standing water, and soon after a leak was found on a piece of equipment at the well site. By 9 p.m. vacuum trucks were removing standing water.

At 9 p.m.: “Chesapeake personnal provided notification of a potential release through the State Hotline service.”

By 11:45 p.m., the fence was complete and water removed; guards were posted.
The chonology continues into the next day, noting that the dead cattle were buried that afternoon, local and state agency interviews were completed, and Chesapeake and Schlumberger finished inspecting equipment.

Turk’s letter states:”During a routine well stimulation/ formation fracturing operation by Schlumberger for Chesapeake, it was observed that a portion of mixed ‘frac’ fluids, composed of over 99 percent freshwater, leaked from vessels and/or piping onto the well pad.”

The spill was not reported, the missive states, because it was not a “reportable quantity” under state and federal regulations, but water and soil analysis found that some of the site contractor’s “products” mixed with storm water runoff and flowed into the field.

The letter from Chesapeake Energy says neither that company nor Schlumberger has had access to the reports on the cattle and can’t determine the cause of death.

“Nevertheless, ” Turk states in the letter to DEQ, “because of this incident, both companies have committed themselves to further evaluating and improving processes so that the repetition of such an incident can be avoided and so their processes can become recognized by your department and the industry as a new standard for spill containment and reporting.”

After the incident, the letter notes, Schlumberger implemented a safety stand-down throughout its North American operations to “reacquaint” field personnel of its existing spill management and reporting duties.

“Schlumberger has now expanded their spill reporting policy, requiring that every noncontained spill, whether or not it is a reportable spill under appropriate regulations, shall be immediately reported to Schlumberger supervisors and the well operators and that spills that exceed reportable limits will continue to be reported to supervisors, the well operator and the appropriate environmental agency.”