No timetable set for extinguishing Dunkard well site fire

February 14, 2014
One worker remains missing after a gas well explosion near Bobtown in Dunkard Township Tuesday. - Katie Roupe / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

BOBTOWN – A company that specializes in fighting well fires continued to make preparations Friday to extinguish a fire that has been burning since Tuesday at a Chevron Appalachia well site in Dunkard Township.

Wild Well Control of Houston, Texas, continued to remove debris from the site and bring in equipment and water needed to extinguish the blaze, said John Poister, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The company has not indicated when it will be ready to start the process to extinguish the fire and cap the well, Poister said, “but right now it would appear that those efforts won’t begin until late Sunday or early Monday.”

An explosion at 6:45 a.m. Tuesday at Chevron’s Lanco 7H well left one worker with minor injuries and another worker missing and presumed dead.

No further information on the missing worker, who is employed by Cameron Surface Systems, was available Friday. Emergency crews were earlier able to get closer to the burning well but apparently not close enough to explore the area thoroughly.

Though the well continued to burn Friday, it was not as intense as the “raging” blaze that could be seen the day of the explosion, Poister said.

Two of the three wells on the pad have been burning. The initial well is burning at a steady flow, “as expected,” and an adjacent well is burning intermittently, Chevron said in a release issued Friday afternoon. The second well was damaged from the heat of the fire from the initial well, it said.

“We continue to monitor the condition and integrity of the remaining well on-site and a contingency plan is in place should conditions change,” the company said.

Chevron said it also continues to clear the site of equipment to allow Wild Well Control to get close enough to perform its operations to gain control of the well and stop the flow of gas.

The last piece of equipment that must be removed from the site is a charred crane. The crane, which is extremely hot, is the ignition source that continues to reignite the natural gas flowing from the initial well, the company said. This flame is serving as the source of ignition for the second well.

The flames also have prevented the combustible gas from spreading beyond the well site, it said.

It was predicted earlier Friday that the fire could be extinguished over the weekend. However, the company will need a considerable amount of water to put out the fire and it doesn’t appear the amount of water it needs will be available on-site until at least late Sunday, Poister said.

The company has constructed a water tank pad adjacent to the well pad so water can be stored on site and used to fight the fire. Water trucks, heavy lifting equipment and pumping systems are being delivered to the site, the company said.

The company and DEP also are exploring sources of water to supply the firefighting efforts including nearby creeks and the Monongahela River, Poister said.

DEP continues to monitor air quality around the site and so far there have been no problems, Poister said. Chevron said it also is monitoring the air as well as surface waters and noise in the area for any impacts. “At this point, we have no indications that this incident has created any safety risk,” the company said.

DEP Secretary Chris Abuzzo visited the site and met with company officials both Wednesday and Thursday. In an interview Wednesday, Abruzzo said it was fortunate the well is in such a remote location. The closest house is about a half of a mile away from the well site.

Abruzzo also said that though it was still too early to tell he didn’t believe there would be any major environmental impacts because the explosion and fire were contained to the well site.

Chevron was cited by DEP in December for failing to obtain a permit to construct a pipeline across the well pad and an access road.

Poister said Friday the work did not appear to be connected to the explosion and had involved work on the well pad, not the well itself. However, those questions will be answered later when a thorough investigation regarding the cause of explosion is completed, he said.

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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