PA Shale Well Out of Control

Friday, February 14, 2014 @ 04:02 PM gHale

Chevron is continuing its investigation into the cause of a shale natural gas well to catch fire just before 7 a.m. Tuesday, leaving one employee with a minor injury and another worker missing and feared dead in Dunkard, PA.

More than 12 hours after an explosion, the fire, fueled by the well’s gas, continued to shoot flames and smoke into the air.

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The heat from the blaze — which caused a tanker truck on site that was full of propane gas to explode — was so intense that first responders from local fire departments had to pull back rather than risk injury.

“They essentially retreated to let the fire burn,” said John Poister, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, which had three people on site investigating. State police said it could take days to contain the fire.

“We’re being told … the site itself, that fire, will not be contained and we will not have access to that property for at least a few days,” Trooper Stefani Plume said at a news conference Tuesday.

Experts on well fires like this flew in Tuesday from Houston.

Wild Well Control, the company Chevron called in to try to contain the blaze, said it would not be unusual for a response team to let a fire burn before making an attempt to knock it down.

Though officials thought the fire initially was a “blowout, where there was loss of control at the well head during drilling that resulted in a release of natural gas, Poister said workers told him it was not a drilling-related accident.

Instead, he said, workers drilled the well two years ago and crews were on site early Tuesday morning putting in pipe that would connect the well to Chevron’s gas-gathering network — the final stage before the well goes into production.

DEP records show Chevron’s Lanco 7H well ended up drilled in March 2012 — as were two other wells on the same well pad — and had not yet begun to produce gas. DEP’s records also show the state had not issued any violations against Chevron for any problems related to the drilling of the three wells on the well pad.

In December, Chevron received one violation for an incident related to the well site — for failure to comply with the terms and conditions of the state’s site permit — but no details of that violation were immediately available.

Chevron said the explosion occurred at about 6:45 a.m. Tuesday.

A contractor working for Chevron had 20 employees on site at the time of the explosion. Beyond the worker who was injured and the one who is missing, officials accounted for the other 18 workers by 8:48 a.m., according to Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Greene.

Chevron employees came to the scene after the explosion and immediately decided to call in the experts at Wild Well Control, and police created a half-mile perimeter around the site.

The Wild Well team arrived at the site, after gathering equipment, at about 5 p.m. Tuesday and began “working with us to develop plans to safely address the situation,” Chevron spokesman Trip Oliver said.

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