Feds Say Tennessee Failed to Give Timely Notice on Oil Well Fire

March 24, 2008

A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official has told Anderson County residents that Tennessee officials did not inform them of an oil well fire in a timely manner.

The well near Oliver Springs struck a huge pocket of natural gas on March 18. An all night effort to cap the well was unsuccessful and on March 19 the natural gas and oil spewing from it exploded.

About 25 families have been evacuated and one man is in critical condition at the Vanderbilt University Burn Center.

“It was like facing hell,” resident Irene Daugherty told The Knoxville News Sentinel. A corner of her doublewide trailer was melted and buckled. “My whole yard was on fire.”

At a meeting with EPA officials on March 21, Perry Gaughan told residents the state knew about the disaster on the afternoon of March 18, but did not inform the EPA until midmorning on March 19.

He said not hearing from state officials about environmental disasters as soon as they happen is a recurring problem.

But officials also assured residents that the air quality remains good, despite the black smoke gushing from the burning well.

Residents told EPA officials they were concerned with oil contaminating their water and hurting the wildlife and livestock.

Farmer Pat Kelly held up plastic bags full of oil-soaked grass and weeds he had pulled from a creek bank that borders his property.

“It was shining with oil 2 feet up the creek bank,” Kelly said. He said he had put up fences to try to keep his cattle away from the creek, but it is his main water source.

Meanwhile, well operator Dan Potts, owner of Walden Resources LLC of Petros, said he did not know how long it would take to put out the uncontrolled blaze, but said it could take several days still.

Asked what he would have done differently, Potts paused and began to tear up, saying, “You can’t turn back time.”

Information from: The Knoxville News Sentinel,

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