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Operator fined $50,000

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By The Staff

BY CINDY SIMPSON

rccindysimpson@bellsouth.net

An oil-well operator whose well blew its pressure cap then exploded into flame the next day has been fined $50,000 by the state.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation cited Dan Potts for activities at his Cove Lane well that forced many residents to vacate their homes in the community near Oliver Springs.

TDEC spokeswoman Meg Lockhart said Potts was cited on March 20 for a list of things, including drilling deeper than his permit allowed.

“The permit Mr. Potts holds allows him to drill to a depth of 3,150 feet,” she said.

According to an application for modification, the well was drilled to a depth of 3,900 feet.

Lockhart explained that the required 20 acres was secured for the drilling of up to 3,150 feet.

However, the 3,900-foot well requires 40 acres.

According to the citation, five chapters of the Rules of the Tennessee Oil and Gas Board were violated in the case.

Potts was assessed the penalty “for willfully failing to submit an application to amend the permit to drill the well within the proper spacing requirements.”

The penalty also includes “all failures of proper controls and contamination to the environment,” according to the citation.

Lockhart also had news regarding a modified application Potts filed in late February.

That application was denied in a letter dated March 28.

The Department of Environment and Conservation denied the permit because the new plat for the deeper well does not meet the state’s specifications for shape/pattern of the plat,” Lockhart said.

Potts, who said his lawyer instructed him not to comment for this story, can appeal the denial within 30 days of receipt of the letter.

He would have to go before the board to prove the submitted drainage is correct.

“Once he meets the criteria, we will be able to determine if he can drill in the affected site at that point,” Lockhart said.

He can appeal at the next scheduled board hearing on June 10.

Lockhart said funds resulting from the production of oil or gas from the well are being put in escrow to “protect the surrounding off-set landowners whose minerals may have been violated with the deepening of this well,” she wrote.

Lockhart said Potts has no previous citations.

On Monday afternoon contractors with the Environmental Protection Agency were still on scene cleaning the area.

The road, now open, is a muddy mess from all the activity.

An on-site coordinator for the EPA was not available for comment by press time.

Last week the well fire was contained, and the well was capped nearly a week after the fire started.

At that time, Potts said he believed the March 19 fire was started from a spark from a vehicle driving along the oil-slicked road by the well site.

Jonathan Vann, a young Morgan County man, was seriously burned when he was driving by the well on his way to work on Cove Lane.

Vann was taken to Vanderbilt Medical Center’s burn unit.

He was released several days later.