Fire still burns at Greene County well site

DEP secretary attends briefing

February 12, 2014
Chris Abruzzo, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, talks with a reporter Wednesday at the Bobtown Polish Club. - Bob Niedbala / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

BOBTOWN – A company brought in to extinguish a fire at Chevron Appalachia's natural gas well site in Dunkard Township could have the fire under control within the next day or two, Chris Abruzzo, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said Wednesday.

Abruzzo spoke with reporters Wednesday afternoon at the Bobtown Polish Club after meeting with Chevron officials and others at the company's command post on Greene Lakes Road.

An explosion at Chevron's Lanco well pad at about 6:45 a.m. Tuesday resulted in a fire that continued to burn Wednesday.

One worker at the site suffered minor injuries and another remains missing.

A team from Wild Well Control, which specializes in fighting well fires, was flown in from Houston, Texas, by Chevron Tuesday morning to extinguish the blaze. The company was developing a plan to cap the well Wednesday.

“I don't want to make any promises Wild Well has to deliver on, but it does seem like they will have a plan in place, it could be, sometime this evening,” Abruzzo said. “From what we're seeing, I'm thinking in the next day or two, this will be contained and the well will be capped.”

Abruzzo said he could not comment on the missing worker, who is reported to be an employee of a Chevron contractor, Cameron International.

“There were folks that got close to the well pad, clearly, to try to determine if they could find him, but they were only able to get so close … at this point it is still a missing person,” Abruzzo said.

The injured man and the missing man were apparently closest to the well when it ignited, he said.

The fire Wednesday appeared to have subsided from Tuesday's blaze and Abruzzo said the fire actually was going out intermittently only to be reignited as gas from the well hits the hot surface, particularly the “red hot” surface of a truck near the well head.

He said he viewed the well pad from about 500 yards.

“You can visually see vapor or gas coming from the well reigniting as it hits the truck that is right in front of the well,” he said.

DEP staff members at the site are monitoring air quality with hand-held monitors but are getting only “negative” readings in terms of volatile organic compounds, he said.

Air quality is the agency's main concern now, he said, “although I have no reason to believe at this point there's anything that any nearby resident should be concerned with.”

To assure residents the air is safe, DEP will be conducting additional air sampling at various locations, particularly in areas where there are homes. Abruzzo said it was “fortunate” the well site is remote; he estimated the nearest home is about a half of a mile away from the site.

Although it is still too early to determine, Abruzzo said, he didn't believe there will be any major environmental impacts from the explosion and fire.

“Because all of this has been contained to the well pad itself, I don't think at this point there's going to be significant environmental harm other than what is being released into the atmosphere, but at this early stage, I'm encouraged by what I've seen.”

Asked whether Pennsylvania should have a team similar to Wild Well in the state to respond more quickly to an emergency, Abruzzo said he didn't think the time it took Wild Well to get to the scene has been a factor. The team was reported to be at the site late Tuesday afternoon.

However, he said, the agency will know better after the fire is extinguished and an investigation is completed whether the time it took Wild Well to get on scene and extinguish the fire was an important factor.

He said he did believe first responders did an excellent job in addressing the emergency including state police, local fire companies and Chevron, which quickly brought in additional staff, as well as Wild Well to fight the blaze.

“It does seem, from what I can tell right now, this was a textbook response that we're looking for in a matter such as this, but I'll know better after we've really conducted a thorough after-action review.”

State Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Jefferson, also attended the briefing with Abruzzo.

“Everybody is doing everything they can to make sure this situation is contained, controlled and over with as soon as possible,” she said.

Others who were at the command center, she said, included representatives of the state police, state Department of Labor and Industry, federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Greene County Emergency Management Agency.

At the time of the explosion, preparations were being made to run tubing into the well, which is a step that is completed prior to bringing a well into production, the company said in a statement issued Wednesday. No drilling or fracking were being done at the time.

Nineteen workers were on the site, including one who suffered minor injuries and the missing worker, the company said.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of these individuals,” the company said.

The company also said its plans include efforts to control the well by shutting off the flow of natural gas and taking appropriate procedures to protect the other wells on the pad.

“We are closely monitoring the status of the adjacent two wells and are developing contingency plans for those wells if necessary,” it said.

Chevron said it is working with local, state and federal agencies and emergency response organizations to assess the situation and respond to the incident and thanked state police and local fire companies for their support.

The company also said any residents who may have any concerns regarding the incident can call a Chevron toll-free line at 1-877-847-8408.

Bob Niedbala 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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