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Three workers suffered injuries after a spark from a natural gas drilling operation in north-central West Virginia ignited methane gas several hundred feet underground Friday, sending up a fireball and starting a blaze that officials said burned for about an hour on the floor of the rig.

Two of the injured ended up airlifted to a hospital after the fire at the Antero Resources site near Sycamore in Harrison County, WV. Firefighters put out the blaze and since the well pad was in a rural area, it posed no danger to the public.

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Two victims flew out to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, said Sgt. Heather Mick of the Harrison County 911 Center. A third went to the hospital by ambulance.

Their conditions weren’t immediately available, but state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) spokesman Tom Aluise said one had returned to the job site by 9 a.m.

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Workers were in the early stages of drilling a Marcellus shale gas well, Aluise said. The drill was about 400 feet deep when they began to withdraw it, creating a spark that ignited the methane. That created more of a fireball than an explosion, he said.

The accident happened at the Cottrill No. 3 well on Antero’s Southern pad, and Aluise said the crew doing the work was with Hall Drilling LLC of Ellenboro.

Neither Hall Drilling nor Colorado-based Antero immediately returned messages Friday.

Aluise said Antero voluntarily shut down the operation, and a DEP investigation is under way.

The rig suffered enough damage that a new one may need to come in “if and when they resume drilling,” Aluise said.

In June, another Antero drilling operation triggered several backyard geysers when workers struck an aquifer in the Sardis area and inadvertently re-pressurized a handful of old water wells. Emergency management officials and residents said some were 10- to 12-feet high.

There was no interior damage in the affected homes. The residents’ all on a public water supply so the wells did not cause severe damage.

On July 31, the DEP ordered Antero to provide a detailed incident report, including a chart outlining the pressures involved, a list of the water wells affected and the current status of those wells.

The DEP also wants pre- and post-water analyses for each of those wells, along with a map showing their locations in relation to the well pad.

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