MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Authorities say a gas drilling operation in the Sardis area hit an aquifer and inadvertently re-pressurized a handful of old water wells Wednesday, creating a backyard geyser at least 10 feet high and several smaller gushers.
The house with the 10- to 12-foot geyser was flooded, said Paul Bump, chief of the Harrison County Bureau of Emergency Services. At three or four other homes, the water flooded yards and garages.
"It looked Old Faithful moved out East," said Dale Sturm, a 63-year-old retired carpenter who noticed his patio was wet shortly before 7 a.m.
Sturm said he went outside to investigate and found water "blowing up under my car" from a crack that had opened in the cement about a foot from the garage door.
The residents' wells have long been disconnected from the indoor plumbing because the homes are all on a public water supply and don't use them for drinking.
"It's not a danger to anyone. It's more of a nuisance," said Bump, adding that the residents he spoke to were surprisingly calm. "Can you imagine, waking up to drink your first cup of coffee and see water shooting out of your yard?"
Colorado-based Antero Resources was in the early stages of drilling a well and was using only water and possibly a nontoxic soap when it hit the aquifer, said Kathy Cosco, spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.
When the well was pressurized, it re-pressurized the old drinking water wells, too.
An official with Antero did not immediately return messages. Cosco said such accidents are rare.
An investigation will be done, but it's too soon to determine whether Antero committed any violations or fines, she said.
Water is being tested from one home where the well was still linked to an outdoor hose used for gardening, and Cosco said the company will be responsible for testing water from the other wells to ensure it's not harmful.
Sturm, meanwhile, spent the day on a neighbor's porch, reluctant to take his daughter and grandchild home for fear flammable and explosive oil and gas could be in the water.
He watched the water pour into the drainage area around his foundation and scooped up a few samples to be tested. Though the gusher eventually tapered off, Sturm said he could still hear it gurgling Wednesday afternoon when he put his ear to the crevice.
Antero's operation is about 1,000 yards behind his house on a hill, and until now, it hadn't concerned him.
But if water can get into the crack, he now wonders, why couldn't flammable oil or gas?
"Natural gas could get in that crevice and filter into my house. And if it hits your water heater, there's an explosion and there goes your house," he said. "I've not had anybody ease my mind that I can bring my family home."