OHIO VALLEY — U.S. Sen. Lou Gentile has been working closely with first responders, local emergency management and the oil and gas industry on the issue of horizontal well safety.
Gentile represents the 30th state Senate District, which comprises 10 counties in eastern Ohio and includes Meigs. This week, the senator introduced a bill to ensure first responders that emergency management has access to critical information.
The bill is aimed at protecting communities in which horizontal wells operate. It would require well owners and operators to distribute emergency response plans to local first responders and emergency management agency officials.
Most well owners and operators have emergency response plans, but currently are not required to share them with first responders. Companies that do not have plans in place would be required to do so.
“This is common sense, straightforward legislation intended to ensure the health and safety of first responders and local residents,” Gentile said. “I’m working to make sure that the men and women who are responding to these situations have all the information they need to perform their jobs quickly and efficiently to protect the families and communities near well sites.”
This bill is modeled after a similar piece of legislation in Pennsylvania and Gentile felt the need for a similar provision following horizontal well issues in Ohio, including the Eisenbarth well pad fire and the methane gas leak in Sardis.
By working with first responders, local emergency management and the oil and gas industry to develop this piece of legislation, Gentile believes the bill will address issues of concern for all parties involved.
As an example, he said the plan would spell out all the possible dangers in a half-mile radius around the affected area and include locations of schools and homes. Plans would also include an area where a command center could be created for all on-site experts.
“Putting emergency response plans into the hands of first responders will allow a coordinated response should an incident occur,” Gentile said. “What we don’t want is a scenario where the information is not available.”
“I’ve now observed sites where an incident occurred and there didn’t seem to be coordination and communication,” he said. “And I’ve seen responses where industry and first responders acted together, they had an action plan and had spent time learning to interact. This is what is necessary to keep people safe, including the first responders.”
When an unforeseen event occurs, the speed and coordination of the response can directly affect efforts to control the situation, which in some cases can contaminate drinking water or require evacuation of nearby resident.
“This (horizontal wells) is new, it contains technical equipment, and training needs to happen to prepare first responders. To do this, companies are becoming engaged in training. “
“The state has an obligation to protect the first responders and the citizens in the community,” Gentile concluded, “and to accomplish this, they need to be able to do their jobs safely.”
Contact Lorna Hart at 740-992-2155 Ext. 2551