The cause of an explosion in the Richmond Hill subdivision south of Indianapolis, Indiana that killed 2 people, completely obliterated 2 homes, and destroyed more than 2 dozen homes on 11/11/2012 remains unknown. This is highly unusual, since the cause of most explosions of this magnitude is found out immediately or within hours of the incident. What most experts agree on as the culprit of the explosion is a natural gas leak. Yet, the evidence doesn’t seem to fit very well with simply a gas leak at the home where the explosion originated or they would have already announced it as simply that.
This subdivision is relatively new with most homes being built from 2000 to 2010 which means that this area was undeveloped for the most part before this time but, it may have been developed in other ways prior to becoming a housing development.
In the early to mid 1900s Indiana was a state where oil and gas exploration and development was in high gear with many oil wells sprouting up in many parts of the state. Literally, thousands of wells were drilled in Indiana from about 1869 well into the 1900s and oil production continued to be good until the late 1950s. With this in mind it is safe to say that the Richmond Hill subdivision either lies near or on areas where wells were drilled decades ago.
As we have seen with the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico where methane gas was responsible for destroying the rig that released millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf. The same may have happened in the Richmond Hill neighborhood.
The buildup of methane gas can occur at any time near old oil wells that have been capped and out of production for decades. Not only can methane gas escape near the well itself, but also come up through fissures in the ground in the area surrounding the well. This occurred in the sea floor of the BP disaster and continues on today despite the well itself being capped.
Methane gas has always been a product of crude oil itself. However, since most of the crude has been removed from old wells the void created has caused massive amounts of methane to build up in place of the oil. As more is made the more pressure on the area surrounding the well will be the case. Similar to crude oil bubbling up from fissures in the ground in the old days, methane gas is now escaping to the surface of the wells themselves and in fissures surrounding the actual wells.
What we have created from crude oil extraction is giant areas of underground methane bubbles that will continue to expand and eventually reach the surface. In the case of the Richmond Hill subdivision with explosive consequences.
This new problem has to be dealt with in two ways. The first would be for methane monitoring equipment to be installed in areas where old oil wells exist to assure evacuation of the area when the gas escapes in high levels.
The second solution would be the development and production of methane gas commercially, since the gas has increased in volume to the point making this possible.
This latest disaster of unknown origin in Indiana is only the tip of the ice berg as many more such explosions will surely come in the future. Since we have such an enormous amount of methane underground this coupled with volcanic activity and fault movements could cause natural explosions of a magnitude previously unknown to human civilization which may wipe out entire cities.