XTO Well in Powhatan Point Capped After 20 Days

POWHATAN POINT — After weeks of work through inclement weather and the evacuation of 30 households following a well pad explosion Feb. 15, XTO Energy announced Wednesday that the well was successfully capped.

In order to make the site safe for workers to plug the leak, XTO “flared,” or burned off excess gas, at the site. The mostly methane gas was directed to an excavated containment area and ignited. The gas burned through the night, illuminating the sky above much of Belmont County with an orange glow. Residents in areas such as Morristown, Belmont and Centerville reported seeing the light from the flames, as well as bright flashes of light they compared to lightning.

The flaring process made the area safe for workers. Capping operations subsequently were completed fairly quickly Wednesday morning.

“We have gained control of the well. It has stopped flowing,” XTO spokeswoman Karen Matusic said. “We did the flare (Tuesday), and that was to move the gas away from the site so that the men could go on and shut the valve off. We also had to pump fluid and mud back into the well to further secure it, and once they did that and they were confident with the pressure and took some pressure testings, they were able to shut it off. The whole process took about two and a half hours (Wednesday) morning once they extinguished the flare.”

Matusic said the next step would be facilitating the evacuees’ return home.

In the days following the explosion, about 100 residents living in a 1-mile radius of the site were housed in four area hotels at XTO’s expense. Later, the evacuation zone was reduced to a half-mile, still containing four homes. Some residents in the exterior half-mile refrained from returning home until the well was capped.

Matusic said the homes in the exterior half-mile were tested and cleared for occupation, and the process will be repeated for the homes in the inner half-mile.

“As far as people going home, what we’re doing now is working with American Electric Power to restore power, because they’d shut off power in the area. Once the power’s back on, those four homes that had been evacuated within the half-mile, we’ll go in with them like we did with the other homes and test, room-by-room, air quality and also see to any repairs, anything that we have to do in the home, replace refrigerators, that sort of thing, to get these folks back in their homes,” she said.

“Once we go in with the monitor team with the residents, we go through and make sure that everything’s fine, that the air quality’s perfectly fine for them. Then our claims adjusters will go in with the residents and go through, room-by-room, to see if there are any repairs (needed), if there’s any damage — water pipes, if they need a new refrigerator or freezer. Those repairs can start right away, as soon as they secure contractors to do it. Repairs on some of the homes of people that have gone back have already begun.”

Now that the flow of gas is contained, XTO teams and state regulators will be able to assess the well pad site to determine the cause of the explosion.

Matusic added that water samples and air quality testing have been taking place throughout the incident.

“As far as any impact on trees or grasses or plants, we have biologists that can go out and look at that and replace anything that they see that might have been affected by the incident,” she said.

There is no timetable for when the well pad will be back in production, Matusic noted.

“It could be offline for as long as the investigation takes,” she said. “We’ll be doing a very thorough investigation. … We apologize to local residents for the disruption and thank them for their patience to restore everything back to normal. As far as claims go, we will make sure any vegetation that was affected by this will be restored.”

She added that state regulators will continue to make assessments. She pointed out that environmental assessments may be difficult at this time, due to factors such as a lack of leaves on the trees.

“We’ll continuously be going back there to put back anything we need to restore,” she said.

A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spokesperson said the Ohio Department of Natural Resources is the lead government agency at the XTO Energy well pad and that all questions should be referred to that agency at 614-265-6860.

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Pope's Encyclical: Laudato Si - Care for our Common Home


VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Thursday called for a radical transformation of politics, economics and individual lifestyles to confront environmental degradation and climate change, as his much-awaited papal encyclical blended a biting critique of consumerism and irresponsible development with a plea for swift and unified global action.

The vision that Francis outlined in the 184-page encyclical is sweeping in ambition and scope: He described a relentless exploitation and destruction of the environment, for which he blamed apathy, the reckless pursuit of profits, excessive faith in technology and political shortsightedness. The most vulnerable victims are the world’s poorest people, he declared, who are being dislocated and disregarded.

The first pope from the developing world, Francis, an Argentine, used the encyclical — titled “Laudato Si’,” or “Praise Be to You” — to highlight the crisis posed by climate change. He placed most of the blame on fossil fuels and human activity while warning of an “unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequence for all of us” if swift action is not taken. Developed, industrialized countries were mostly responsible, he said, and were obligated to help poorer nations confront the crisis.

“Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods,” he wrote. “It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”

The Vatican released the encyclical at noon on Thursday, following a heavily attended news conference and amid widespread global interest. Vatican officials were infuriated after an Italian magazine on Monday posted a leaked draft of the encyclical online — one that almost exactly matched the final document. The breach led to speculation that opponents of Francis inside the Vatican wanted to embarrass him by undermining the planned rollout.

But on Thursday, religious figures, environmentalists, scientists, elected officials and corporate executives around the world were awaiting the official release of the encyclical, with many of them scheduling later news conferences or preparing statements to discuss it. Media interest was enormous, partly because of Francis’ global popularity, but also because this was the first time that a pope had written an encyclical about environmental damage — and because of the intriguing coalition he is proposing between faith and science.

“Humanity is faced with a crucial challenge that requires the development of adequate policies, which, moreover, are currently being discussed on the global agenda,” Cardinal Peter Turkson said during the morning news conference at the Vatican. “Certainly, Laudato Si’ can and must have an impact on important and urgent decisions to be made in this area.”

In the news conference, Cardinal Turkson said that Francis had already noted that humanity had played a role in climate change. He said that there was “heated debate” on the topic and that Francis was not trying to intervene in that.

Francis has made clear that he hopes the encyclical will influence energy and economic policy and stir a global movement. He calls on ordinary people to pressure politicians for change. Bishops and priests around the world are expected to lead discussions on the encyclical in services on Sunday. But Francis is also reaching for a wider audience when in the first pages of the document he asks “to address every person living on this planet.”

Theologian Condemns ‘Ecological Sin’

Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon says that the environmental crisis is a “spiritual problem,” during a news conference on Thursday about Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change.

Even before the release, Francis’ unflinching stance against environmental destruction, and his demand for global action, had already thrilled many scientists. In recent weeks, advocates of policies to combat climate change have expressed hope that Francis could lend a “moral dimension” to the debate, because winning scientific arguments was different from moving people to action.

“Within the scientific community, there is almost a code of honor that you will never transgress the red line between pure analysis and moral issues,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founder and chairman of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and a leading European climate scientist. “But we are now in a situation where we have to think about the consequences of our insight for society.”

Yet Francis has also been sharply criticized by those who question or deny the established science of human-caused climate change and also by some conservative Roman Catholics, who have interpreted the document as an attack on capitalism and as unwanted political meddling at a moment when climate change is high on the global agenda.

Governments are now crafting domestic climate change plans before December’s United Nations summit meeting on climate change in Paris. The goal of the meeting is to achieve the first sweeping global accord in which every nation on earth would commit to enacting new policies to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Many governments have yet to present plans, including major emitters like Brazil, which also has a large Catholic population. The encyclical is seen as an unsubtle nudge for action, even as it provides support for leaders faced with tough choices in countries with large numbers of Catholics.

“It gives a lot of cover to political and economic leaders in those countries, as they make decisions on climate change policy,” said Timothy Wirth, vice chairman of the United Nations Foundation.

Catholic theologians say the overarching theme of the encyclical is “integral ecology,” which links care for the environment with a notion already well developed in Catholic teaching — that economic development, to be morally good and just, must take into account the need of human beings for things such as freedom, education and meaningful work. 

“The basic idea is, in order to love God, you have to love your fellow human beings, and you have to love and care for the rest of creation,” said Vincent Miller, who holds a chair in Catholic theology and culture at the University of Dayton, a Catholic college in Ohio. “It gives Francis a very traditional basis to argue for the inclusion of environmental concern at the center of Christian faith.”

He added: “Critics will say the church can’t teach policy, the church can’t teach politics. And Francis is saying, ‘No, these things are at the core of the church’s teaching.’”

Francis has drawn from a wide variety of sources, partly to buttress his arguments, partly to underscore the universality of his message. He regularly cites passages from his two predecessors, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, even as he also draws prominently from his religious ally, Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, leader of the world’s Eastern Orthodox Christians. He also cites a Sufi Muslim mystic, Ali al-Khawas.

Francis begins the encyclical with a hymn written by St. Francis of Assisi, the 13th-century friar who is the patron saint of animals and the environment. Francis cites the Bible’s book of Genesis to underpin his theological argument, though in a passage certain to rankle some Christians, he chastises those who cite Genesis as evidence that man has “dominion” over earth and therefore an unlimited right to its resources. Some believers have used this biblical understanding of “dominion” to justify practices such as mountaintop mining or fishing with gill nets.

“This is not a correct interpretation of the Bible as understood by the Church,” Francis wrote. The Bible teaches human beings to “till and keep” the garden of the world, he said: “‘Tilling’ refers to cultivating, plowing or working, while ‘keeping’ means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving.”

His most stinging rebuke is a broad economic and political critique of profit-seeking and the undue influence of technology on society. He praised the progress achieved by economic growth and technology, singling out achievements in medicine, science and engineering. But, he added, “Our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience.”.

Central to Francis’ theme is the linkage between the poor and the fragility of the planet. He rejects the belief that technology and “current economics” will solve environmental problems or “that the problems of global hunger and poverty will be resolved simply by market growth.” He cites finance as having a distorting influence on politics and calls for government action, international regulation and a spiritual and cultural awakening to “recover depth in life.”

Amid the broad themes, Francis also touches on a wide range of specific topics, from urban planning (calling for better neighborhoods for the poor) and agricultural economics (warning against the reach of huge agribusinesses that push family farmers off their land) to conservation and biodiversity (with calls to protect the Amazon and Congo basins), and even offers up small passages of media and architecture criticism.

“A huge indictment I see in this encyclical is that people have lost their sense of ultimate and proper goals of technology and economics,” said Christiana Z. Peppard, an assistant professor of theology, science and ethics at Fordham University in New York. “We are focused on short-term, consumerist patterns, and have allowed technological and economic paradigms to tell us what our values ought to be.”

Encyclicals are letters to clergy members and laity of the church that are considered authoritative papal teaching documents. Catholics are expected to try to sincerely embrace the teaching and moral judgments within. But while broad moral principles are widely considered to be binding, more specific assertions can be categorized as “prudential judgments” — a phrase some critics have invoked to reject Francis’ positions on hot-button issues like climate change or economic inequality.

Many conservatives will be pleased, however, because Francis also included a strong criticism of abortion while also belittling the argument that population control represented a solution to limited resources and poverty. However, he sharply criticized carbon credits — the financial instruments now central to the European Union’s current climate change policy — as a tool that “may simply become a ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors.”

Above all, Francis has framed the encyclical as a call to action, imbuing environmental protection with a theological and spiritual foundation. He praises the younger generations for being ready for change and said “enforceable international agreements are urgently needed.” He cited Benedict in saying that advanced societies “must be prepared to encourage more sober lifestyles, while reducing their energy consumption and improving its efficiency.”

“All is not lost,” he wrote. “Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start.”

Replicated only for posterity. All credit goes to The New York Times and Jim Yardley and Laurie Goodstein. Copyright 2015. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Original article found @http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/19/world/europe/pope-francis-in-sweeping-encyclical-calls-for-swift-action-on-climate-change.html?_r=0