One worker missing in Greene gas well fire

  • By Bob Niedbala February 11, 2014
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Katie Roupe/Observer-Reporter One worker remains missing after a gas well explosion near Bobtown in Dunkard Township on Tuesday, February 11. The intensity of the flames prevented crews from getting close to the fire at the Lanco wellhead.
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Katie Roupe / Observer-Reporter
One worker remains missing after a gas well explosion near Bobtown in Dunkard Township Tuesday. The intensity of the flames prevented crews from getting close to the fire at the Lanco wellhead. Order a Print
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Katie Roupe/ Observer-Reporter Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Stefani Plume speaks at a news conference in Bobtown after a gas well explosion and fire in Dunkard Township on Tuesday, February 11. One person is still missing after the blast.

BOBTOWN – One worker remained missing late Tuesday following an explosion earlier in the day at a Chevron Appalachia natural gas well site in Dunkard Township.

The explosion about 6:45 a.m. was at Chevron’s Lanco 7H well pad, in a remote area accessible from Water Tank Road, just northwest of Bobtown.

The fire continued to burn Tuesday afternoon. Flames and smoke shot from the well site at regular intervals and the roar of escaping gas could be heard from an opposite hillside more than a mile away.

Neither the name of the missing worker nor the company for which he was employed was released. Another worker was treated for minor injuries at a local hospital, state police Trooper Stefani Plume said at a 1:45 p.m. news conference at Bobtown Polish Club.

Emergency personnel were unable to enter the site to look for the missing worker since the explosion, Plume said.

“What we’re being told … that site itself, that fire, will not be contained and we will not have access to that property for at least a few days,” she said.

Between 20 and 30 workers employed by several contractors that provide well services to Chevron were at the property Tuesday morning at the time of the explosion.

Four fire companies were called but did not attempt to extinguish the blaze, Plume said.

“They knew from the get-go, basically, it was something they would not be able to extinguish,” she said. “At that point, their training tells them to set up a perimeter and get everyone out as safely as possible,” Plume said.

State police were interviewing workers Tuesday afternoon who were at the scene and escaped unharmed and had set up a half-mile perimeter around the site as a precaution. The well is in an isolated area and no nearby residents had to be evacuated, Plume said.

In a statement issued Tuesday afternoon, Chevron said it had initiated its emergency response plan, contacting local emergency responders as well as Wild Well Control, a Houston, Texas-based company that specializes in extinguishing well fires.

“Chevron’s primary concern at this point is to ensure the safety of its employees, contractors and the surrounding community, and to contain and control the fire,” the statement said.

A company spokeswoman who attended the news conference declined to comment and provided no further information when contacted later.

Chevron flew a Wild Well Control team from Houston to Pittsburgh Tuesday morning, said John Poister, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The team arrived on-site late Tuesday afternoon, though Poister said the process to control the well could take days to complete.

DEP is monitoring the situation at the site, Poister said.

“There is quite a bit of fire so we are going to be taking air monitoring samples. Unlike say an oil fire, we don’t have the thick black smoke so there is not an imminent air pollution danger, but we want to be on the safe side,” he said.

The cause of the explosion will not be known for some time, although there may be a partial explanation available more quickly, Poister said.

He noted a number of trucks were at the well site Tuesday morning, including one that may have contained propane. Some reports suggest it may have exploded, although Poister said he could not confirm that.

“There will be an investigation undertaken by the DEP and I’m sure Chevron will conduct its own investigation (of what took place),” Poister said.

The fire might be a little more difficult to extinguish than one involving a single well, Poister said. “Normally, you have a pipe situation with flames going out of a well pipe. They use an explosive to suck all of the oxygen out of the pipe and that extinguishes the fire,” he said.

This case may be different, he said. “There is a crater when the explosion occurred so the fire is much greater. To manage it, they will more than likely have to use a large amount of a fire suppressant (chemical).” DEP staff will closely monitor nearby streams to ensure they are not compromised by the chemical, he said.

The well at the site was in the final stages of work before being placed into production, Poister said. The well had been drilled more than a year ago and fracked last spring, according to people at the scene who had worked at the site but did not want to be named.

Two additional wells at the site are not expected to be affected because the fire is only believed to be on the surface, Poister said.

Four fire companies were called to the scene early Tuesday, Mt. Morris, Bobtown-Dunkard Township, Carmichaels-Cumberland Township and Greensboro-Monongahela Township. Only Bobtown remained at the site throughout the day.

Personnel from the Greene County Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross also were at the site.

Staff writer Tara Kinsell contributed to this story.

Bob Niedbala is a staff writer for the Observer-Reporter. He has worked as a general assignment reporter for the newspaper for 27 years in the Greene County bureau. He received a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Pittsburgh.


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