Company works to keep gas production safe

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PITTSBURGH —

The Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling industry is booming in Southwestern Pennsylvania, but the benefits don’t come without risk.

An explosion at a natural-gas well-pad in Dunkard, Greene County, killed a 27-year-old man in February.

Channel 11 recently learned how one company is working to keep natural gas production safe.

Cherokee Helicopter Service in Washington County works with emergency responders and contracts with gas companies to find methane gas leaks.

“We're on the cutting edge with what we're doing," said Cherokee Walker.

Walker’s family owned company has 40 years of experience in the air, but their job is evolving with the growth of Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling and new technology.

“Safety is paramount.  And that's really what we're selling," said Walker.

They use three types of equipment on their helicopter including a high definition camera to document visible pipeline breaches, a handheld FLIR thermal and infrared camera which can actually see the invisible methane fumes, and the newest addition, an Apogee Scientific Airborne Detection System.

It essentially "smells" natural gas.

“This picks up about .1 parts per million of methane," said Scott McLaren of Apogee Scientific, “You know cows, the digestive process, they give off methane.  We can pick up one cow lying on the pipeline right away.”

Of course, what they're looking for are dangerous methane leaks along natural gas pipelines.

And they took us along for a demonstration.

“Now we're getting in the field in real time and seeing that it works," said Walker.

They showed us video of an actual gas leak found seeping out of the ground by Cherokee's team last month in Ohio.

And with more than 2,500 miles of pipeline serving Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, and hundreds of more miles expected to be built, Walker said there’s a growing need for this technology.

"We want to find the problems when they are small before they become large," said Walker.

While there are other, out-of-state, companies offering similar services -- Cherokee said they’re the only local company using this level of gas leak technology.