Frac tank rescue simulations enacted in weekend training program

Workers in the Marcellus Shale industry and a local well fire department were on hand Saturday for a confined space entry and rescue training and certification program held at the Ridgway Firemen's Carnival Grounds. During the program, simulations and drills were held that practiced rescuing injured workers from a frac tank. An actual frac tank, a tank that is used to hold water used in the hydrofracturing process that extracts natural gas from shale formations deep beneath the earth's surface, was used as part of the activities. The program, organized by Evergreen Gasfield Services, Inc. of St. Marys, was open to the public and designed to offer training and certification in confined space entry and rescue to gas industry workers, as well as to familiarize the emergency personnel invited to attend with these practices. Frac tanks like the one used in the exercises Saturday can hold up to 21,000 gallons of water. While approximately 45 feet long, eight feet wide and nine feet high, the interiors are only accessible through two 20-inch wide manways at each end. As Rick Marzella, president of EverGreen explained, the tanks must be cleaned prior to leaving a site and in doing so workers must fit themselves through these manways in entering and exiting the tanks. The tight confines of the tanks make rescue especially difficult and the specialized training necessary. Marzella said that the confined space entry and rescue training undertaken Saturday is not unique to the gas industry, but is conducted in accordance with the Occupational Safety Health Association (OSHA) standards and applies to other vocations and occupational settings, including construction sites and municipal maintenance of sewer and water tanks."Confined space could be a manhole, a water tank, a mixing tank at a sewage factory, a water tank on the fire truck," Marzella said. Marzella said when a team of workers is tasked with cleaning a frac tank using pressure washers and squeegees, there is an "observer" whose sole responsibility is to "keep an eye on" the workers and initiate a rescue of a distressed or injured worker if necessary. "The key thing is somebody on the outside has to take command, tell them what to go get and they have to know what to go get," said Doug Morgan, safety and marketing director with EverGreen. Saturday's allowed attendees to practice this; as a "victim" entered the tank and once the "observer" initiated the rescue procedure, two to three men began gathering the required equipment, including harnesses, air tanks and air masks. Next, one of the men tethered to workers outside the tank by a rope entered the tank, secured the victim to a SKED (flexible gurney) and began to pull him or her to safety, aided by the others. The drills were timed with a target extraction goal of five minutes as dictated by OSHA in confined space rescue. Current Ridgway Fire Department captain and former chief Dave Matson said that little exists in the way of fire department procedure or protocol specifically designed for Marcellus Shale rescue scenarios, but area fire department personnel are trained in similar conditions and scenarios with confined space rescue training and do have experience in this area. "It's basically the same principles, but we've never seen any of this equipment," Matson said. Matson said that in responding to incidents at Marcellus sites, the fire department will rely heavily on the prompting and direction of the Marcellus workers themselves.Pick up a copy of the Monday, Jan. 9, 2012 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.