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Homeowner Close To Washington County Gas Well Pad Fire Says 'We're Stuck'

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UPDATE: This story was updated at 11:40am to clarify that the fire was due to an equipment failure at the well pad.

Rebecca and Jeffrey Ruffing and their six children live less than 600 feet from the Rice Energy natural gas well pad that caught fire Sunday afternoon.

“We ran outside, saw the flames, the smoke, heard the second explosion and probably within three or four minutes, we had the kids in the car, 911 had told us to get as far away as possible immediately,” Rebecca Ruffing, 46, said.

She said having the well pad so close to her home of 19 years has been a “nightmare.” The traffic, dirt, light and constant noise have been an ongoing inconvenience for her family.

KDKA-TV spoke with nearby resident Linda Padovich, who also cited problems with noise due to the well pad.

“We bought this house because of the country, you know?” she said. “Now you took it from us.”

Ruffing said she does not recall Rice holding community meetings ahead of beginning drilling activities, and that nearby homeowners had little choice in the matter. Rice officials declined to comment. 

“I had voiced my concerns to Rice last night, and told them that what happened Sunday was pretty much the icing on the cake for us,” she said.

Representatives from the company have held private meetings with homeowners near the pad, said Rice spokesperson Kimberly Price.

Ruffing said it was a short conversation, in part because the company doesn’t yet know what kind of equipment failure caused the fire and when drilling operations will resume. A company statement said the fire was the result of equipment failure on a pump.

“Rice Energy’s emergency preparedness plan was implemented as designed on Sunday,” said Rice’s vice president of environmental health and safety Mike Lauderbaugh in a statement. “Rice Energy personnel and local first responders train together regularly to prepare for potentially hazardous situations. Our collective ability to assess the incident and maintain control of the fire until it was extinguished is indicative of our rigorous training and proven emergency response plan. We are very proud of the way the teams responded and executed in this time of need.”

Rice Energy did not immediately respond to a request for an interview. According to records kept by the state Department of Environmental Protection, Rice has had 65 separate code violations at fracking wells in Washington County over the last ten years. Violations included pollution of waterways, failure to property control erosion, improper transport, storage or disposal of waste and failure to submit required information to the department. The violations were not at the Papa Bear pad where the fire occurred Sunday.

Ruffing said she and her husband have discussed whether they should stay put or try to sell their home. In addition the possibility of accidents like Sunday’s fire, she said they are concerned about the potential long-term health impacts of living so close to a well pad.

But their proximity to the well pad means they would likely take a large hit if they tried to sell their house.

“Our property value has gone down a significant amount and there’s nothing we can do,” she said. “We’re pretty much stuck. There’s nothing we can do. We certainly couldn’t sell when they started and we can’t sell now.”

Liz Reid began working at WESA in 2013 as a general assignment reporter and weekend host. Since then, she’s worked as the Morning Edition producer, health & science reporter and as an editor.
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