Allegany house explosion

Old oil derricks, such as these, were found in bygone days throughout the Bradford Oil Field, which extends from Pennsylvania to New York state. Current drilling in Allegany is under scrutiny following the explosion of a house that is suspected to be linked to wells drilled in the West Branch and Four Mile roads valley.

ALLEGANY, N.Y. — A number of residents in Allegany likely realize that oil, and drilling for it, has been in the community for a long time — as far back as when the Bradford Oil Field was first discovered.

While oil has been an integral part of the rural community by providing jobs not only in the field but also in related industries, the scale of recent drilling above residential areas in the West Branch and Four Mile valley caught many residents by surprise.

Officials of Dimes Energy of Canada have stated that as many as 400 wells may be drilled in the Allegany area in the upcoming years.

The surprise for many residents turned into dismay when one of the houses on West Branch Road exploded in November, causing many town residents to question if it had been related to drilling by Dimes and conducted by Dallas Morris Drilling of Bradford, Pa.

The answer to that question and others, including well-water safety, are still up in the air as the state Department of Environmental Conservation investigates the cause of the explosion that leveled the house of Ron and Betty Jo Volz on Nov. 18. Residents had attended town meetings following the incident and have asked to be placed on the next town of Allegany agenda slated for 7 p.m. Jan. 28.

In looking back at the history of oil in the community, one need only peruse the town website, which has this entry in describing related oil production: “The southern part of Allegany is located on the Bradford Oil Field, which extends into Pennsylvania. Oil extraction became a locally important industry in the late 1800s and still remains a component of the Town’s economy.”

Michel Piette, president of Dimes Energy, provided a short history lesson that touched on Allegany’s connection to the oil industry during his visit to a town meeting on Dec. 10. He and a company representative have not returned recent calls from the Times Herald for additional input from the company.

During the meeting, Piette said that when Dimes first arrived in the area it didn’t “come down with the idea of reinventing the wheel, this town and many like it in this area were built” on the oil industry.

“We pride ourselves for doing better than has been done for several decades; 160,000 wells have been drilled in New York and Pennsylvania,” he said. “One hundred and sixty thousand, and this is the first time that something has happened. It is a very unfortunate catastrophe, but also an unrelated coincidence. In this country and others you’re innocent until proven otherwise. We are very confident that that will be the end result.”

While Piette’s claims may just be in relation to wells drilled and operated by his company, another explosion of a house at 10 Helen Lane in Bradford, Pa. in February 2011 was determined to be linked to an oil well. According to a Bradford Era article, officials with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection “pinpointed a single well, Rogers 9 located 300 feet from the home, as the source of the gas and gas migration as the cause of the explosion.”

The owner of the home, which is in the Bradford Oil Field and approximately 20 miles from West Branch Road in Allegany, had been outside at the time of the explosion, therefore only suffered minor injuries. Damage to the house was estimated at $250,000.

In commenting on the availability of oil remaining in the Bradford Oil Field, following its boom days in the late 1800s and early 1900s, John Bulmer, a retired consultant for the oil industry in Bradford, provided a few general comments.

“The great majority of the original oil in place is still there,” Bulmer said, noting as much as 75% of the original oil could still be available in the Bradford Field. “They’re still getting implementation with advanced fracking method techniques … there’s a lot to recover if the technology is there.”

However, as drilling involves “heavy capital investment at the front end,” larger local operations, such as is found in Allegany, likely wouldn’t be financially feasible for smaller companies to undertake, he said. In addition, he said the majority of crude oil in the country is now produced in the Permian Basin in West Texas or the Bakken formation in North Dakota, therefore, smaller operations found locally supply American Refining Group in Bradford.

“The big local issue is to make sure we have enough local production of paraffin-based crude to continue to support the operations of ARG refinery,” Bulmer said.

Chip McCracken of McCracken Energy Services in Bradford, also owns and operates a number of area oil wells. He said the Dimes operation “is nothing new, they’ve been fracking wells around here since 1950.”

McCracken believes up to 70% of oil is still located in the region.

“The easy oil is gone, let’s put it that way,” McCracken said. “It’s a matter of having the right technology and the right price.”

As for the current drilling in the town of Allegany, New York DEC spokesman Todd Pignataro said all drilling contractors, plugging contractors and well operators must be registered with the state. In addition, he said the DEC will continue to strictly oversee permitted operations in the area.

Gary Abraham, an environmental attorney in New York state, noted the DEC “has all the authority, and that includes discretion to require water-well testing before or after oil well permits are issued.

“Having all the authority leaves none for the host town,” he said, meaning municipalities and residents must rely on the DEC to ensure operations don’t pose a risk to the community.

(Contact reporter Kate Day Sager at kates_th@yahoo.com. Follow her on Twitter, @OTHKate)

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