The first problem Vantage Energy had at its Lake Arlington Baptist Church drill site off Little Road on Saturday afternoon was thousands of gallons of salty, pressurized frack water flowing back out of a well.
Despite precautions, many things can go wrong while fracking a well, and drilling experts at a site understandably react first by attempting to regain control.
But the second problem Vantage had was equally serious, especially for people who live nearby in an urban drilling environment: People at the site did not immediately call in the Arlington Fire Department’s trained first responders.
Fire Chief Don Crowson, who came up with the plan and directed formation of the city’s gas well emergency response team three years ago, is not a person to be ignored.
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“Our expectation is you call 911 in an emergency,” Crowson told the City Council on Tuesday during a briefing on the incident. “They called us a couple hours too late. There was already frack fluid water flowing from the site. We were not happy about that and they know about that.”
Vantage has apologized to the more than 100 people who were evacuated from their southwest Arlington homes. A professional gas well blowout team brought the well under control after about 24 hours.
But Vantage’s explanation of the tardy 911 call is less than convincing.
“During the first two hours of the incident, our on-site personnel performed a routine intervention operation to isolate the leak,” Vantage spokeswoman Nancy Farrar told Star-Telegram reporter Susan Schrock.
“When that operation failed, the incident was then elevated to a higher level of awareness requiring additional resources. It is at this time that the [Arlington Fire Department] was contacted to assist as one of those resources.”
She called it “a common incident command structure.” If so, it’s a structure that must be rebuilt.
Arlington residents were in danger. The city had the foresight to set up its gas well emergency response team to protect residents, and well operators must respect that.