COALFIELD, Tenn. - Two workers were slightly injured Friday when an oil well exploded and caught fire near this rural East Tennessee community, sending smoke into the air that could be seen from several miles away, authorities said.
Workers drilling for oil hit a gas pocket shortly before 9 a.m. EDT at a new well owned by Atlas America Inc. in the Big Mountain area, about 27 miles west of Knoxville.
"It's rare that an explosion occurs when you hit a gas pocket, but it happens," Atlas spokesman Darrell Trett told The Knoxville News Sentinel at the scene.
The fire continued to burn but was contained at the well head.
"As long as the fire is contained at the well head, we can deal with it," Trett said.
Superior Wells Services of Black Lick, Pa., was called in to squelch the flames using liquid nitrogen.
A similar oil well fire in the same area in 2002 burned for several days. That fire at a wildcat well owned by Pryor Oil of Cookeville caused one minor injury.
One of the workers Friday was taken to a hospital for treatment, but the injuries were not believed to be serious, authorities at the scene said. WATE-TV said the workers were hurt while moving equipment away from the fire.
Atlas America Vice President Don Laughlin said in a phone interview from the company's headquarters in Moon Township, Pa., that about five workers would have been at the rig.
Fire departments from Coalfield, Petros and Joyner responded to the accident, along with the Morgan County rescue squad and ambulance service. Surrounding counties were notified, said Matthew Brown, supervisory dispatcher for the Morgan County Sheriff's Office. The rural area around Coalfield is pockmarked with small oil and gas wells. "It used to be, you'd have to have a major strike (to make recovery profitable)," said Bill Goodwin, director and past president of the Tennessee Oil and Gas Association. "With today's prices, that's all changed." Goodwin said Atlas America is a member of the association and is a good operator. He said the company has drilled a lot of wells in the area, an oil-bearing formation known as the Big Sunnybrook, and had about 20 wells permitted last month alone. AP-CS-04-06-07 1157EDT