Weather slows efforts to extinquish well fire

February 13, 2014
Employees of Wild Well Control of Houston, Texas, remove equipment at the Greene County Fairgrounds in Waynesburg to be used in extinguishing the fire at a Dunkard Township gas well. - Tara Kinsell / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

BOBTOWN – Inclement weather conditions slowed operations to extinguish the fire at Chevron’s Lanco well pad in Dunkard Township.

The fire ignited about 6:45 a.m. Tuesday following an explosion at the well site. The cause of the explosion and fire remain under investigation by the state Department of Environmental Protection, Chevron and the state fire marshal.

“They had originally hoped to have it out in a couple of days. With the snow (Thursday) and some of the other challenges with the weather, there is no time table now,” said state Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, who visited the area of the well pad Thursday.

Greg Leathers of Greene County Emergency Management said salt was taken to the area to treat slick road surfaces so Wild Well Control’s equipment could reach the site. Wild Well Control, specialists in fighting well fires, were flown from Houston Tuesday morning to work on extinguishing the blaze.

Solobay said the way the fire is exiting the well has created multiple challenges for Wild Well Control.

If the flames were shooting straight up instead of horizontally, the fire would be easier to extinguish, according to Solobay. Liquids inside the well extinguish the fire, but it reignites as gas continues to shoot out sideways, hitting hot metal on the well pad. Each time this happens, it creates bangs and loud noises, he said.

Though there is no immediate strategy to extinguish the fire, Solobay said there is a plan to clear many of the trucks and equipment not involved in the fire from the scene. Everything else will be left in place to present a clear picture for investigators of where things were located when the fire started. Hopefully, this will give them a better understanding of what took place and how to prevent it from happening again, Solobay said.

“There are some things they can’t answer yet as to how and why it happened,” Solobay said. “What we do know is there were three wells on the well pad already fracked but not in production yet. We have found out the gas coming from these wells is all dry gas, all methane with no other by-products so it is a lighter weight gas.”

Solobay said that was welcome information because once the well is capped, it will go out without the concern of low-laying hydrocarbons that could ignite like those found in wet gas.

When Solobay, state DEP secretary Chris Abruzzo, the fire marshal and representatives from Chevron went to the site Thursday, they were still only able to get within 500 yards because of the heat.

“There is still one person unaccounted for. We looked as closely as possible and haven’t been able to see any evidence of that person so the situation is still up in the air,” Solobay said.

The person was employed by Cameron International of Houston, Texas, and working for Chevron.

“Cameron leaders both at the site and from Houston have been in constant contact with Chevron, which is leading the response. We are all working with local and Pennsylvania state authorities to safely locate our employee,” said a release from the company. “In addition, we are doing everything possible to support the family during this difficult time.”

The company said it has no further information on what might have caused this incident but noted, “It is a serious reminder of the dangers we face in our industry every day and underscores the importance of safety in everything we do.”

A second person hurt Tuesday was taken to an area hospital where he was treated and released, according to Solobay.

Tara Kinsell started her career in journalism with the National Geographic Insider Magazine and the Gaithersburg Gazette Newspaper in Montgomery County, Md. Tara has written and photographed sports, features and news stories for the Herald Standard, Greene County Messenger and Albert Gallatin Weekly. She holds degrees in journalism and graphic design from Waynesburg College, now Waynesburg University, and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, respectively.

View More from this Author



blog comments powered by Disqus