A fire at a gas well in southern Madison County on March 18 occurred after workers struck natural gas sooner than they expected, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
The fire burned for several hours at a Nornew site in the town of Lebanon, injuring two workers, who were treated and released from a local hospital, DEC spokesman Yancey Roy said.
Nornew spokesman Dennis Holbrook said the two drillers were the only personnel on the site, and they both were working over the hole at about 5 a.m. When they pulled out a pipe, something ignited the gas, he said.
Nornew is the American subsidiary of the Norwegian energy company Norse Energy.
"We're still trying to determine causation," Holbrook said. "You are dealing obviously with a combustible substance."
Holbrook said one worker had first-degree burns, and the other had second- and third-degree burns. Neither was identified.
Holbrook said the company temporarily halted its operations in the area to review procedures.
There was also a diesel fuel spill at the site from a tank used to run drilling equipment, Holbrook said.
"Most of that was consumed in the fire," Holbrook said.
DEC personnel were on the scene shortly after the fire was reported.
"Thanks to a quick response by the DEC spills team, the fuel was quickly cleaned up and did not reach any surface water or groundwater," Roy said.
The site is considered contained and the DEC is continuing to investigate the incident, as is the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Roy said. Holbrook said it is hoped drilling can soon be renewed at the site.
A Nornew well in Smyrna was the scene of a fire in January. No one was injured in that incident.
Lebanon Town Supervisor Jim Goldstein said it is troublesome that there have been two gas-well fires in the area in three months.
"I have a lot of concerns beyond just the safety," he said.
According to geologists, Otsego, Delaware and Chenango counties are potentially rich in gas deposited in shale thousands of feet below ground.
Skeptics of natural-gas drilling say extracting the gas could cause environmental damage and have criticized the tactics of "landmen" who sign leases with landowners on behalf of the drilling companies.
Proponents of drilling say tapping the gas can provide energy relief for the country and could be an economic boon to landowners.
The Otsego County Conservation Association reports that 8.7 percent of acreage in Otsego County is leased for natural-gas drilling, according to a media release from the group.