Ground gas “definitely a possibility” in Allegany house explosion

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ALLEGANY, NY (WIVB) More than two weeks after a house exploded in the heart of oil and gas well country, the public health director for Cattaraugus County said Friday that it could have been caused by methane gas seeping through the ground.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation continues to work with the Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s Office in the investigation into what caused the house to explode on West Branch Road in the Town of Allegany on November 18. Sources tell News 4 that investigators have ruled out any of the home’s heating sources or electricity being the cause.

The focus is now on whether ground-gas was the cause.

“That definitely is a possibility. I’m sure that has not been ruled out,” said Eric Wohlers, director of public health for Cattaraugus County. He said his department will be testing five water wells next week in that area.

The residents of the home that exploded smelled in their water what may have been methane in the weeks leading up to the blast and that’s a product of natural gas. “It’s not uncommon all over Western New York wherever gas and oil well drilling has occurred that we occasionally do get calls from residents saying that they have noticed dissolved gas bubbles in the glass of water when it comes out of their faucet. That’s not unusual,”said Wohlers.

What is unusual is a home explosion from methane. There has never been a house explosion in new York State that was directly linked to oil or gas drilling.

The only two active oil or gas drilling operations in all of Western New York currently are within a mile of this home explosion, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Dimes Energy, of Olean, is involved in those operations. “We’re in constant contact with the DEC,” said Eric Firkel, corporation counsel for Dimes Energy. “We have no reason to believe that our operations were the cause of this accident . We have a perfect safety record and will continue to do anything possible to ensure the safety of our workers, local property owners and the environment.”

The public health director says it is important for homeowners to make sure their wells, or old wells on their property, are properly vented. If there is methane running through the bedrock it can escape safely through a properly vented well cap, but if it is not vented properly, the methane can build up and become explosive.

Anyone with questions about water well safety can call the Cattaraugus County health department at (716) 701-3388 or see this helpful link.

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