DEP says radiation levels normal after gas well fire

March 7, 2014

No radiation levels exceeding normal “background” levels were found at the Chevron well site that exploded last month in Dunkard Township, the state Department of Environmental Protection said Friday.

“DEP is committed to ensuring public health and safety and providing open, transparent communication following last month’s Chevron incident,” DEP Secretary Christ Abbruzo said in releasing a summary report of findings from DEP’s radiological tests.

Chevron’s Lanco well pad exploded Feb. 11, killing one worker and injuring another. Two wells on the pad impacted by the explosion burned until Feb. 15, when they extinguished themselves. The wells continued to release gas until they were capped about two weeks ago.

DEP’s Bureau of Radiation Protection conducted sampling for radiation Feb. 13 and 14 at three locations surrounding the property, said DEP spokesman John Poister. The information was then sent to DEP’s Bureau of Laboratories for analysis.

Naturally occurring radioactive material is present at some level everywhere resulting in local radiation identified as “background” radiation, DEP explained. Any increase in radiation is determined by comparing the background level with the level measured from some activity such as a well explosion or natural gas release.

DEP determined the background level at the Chevron site by conducting sampling upwind from the well site, Poister said. The two other samples were taken downwind in areas closer to homes, he said.

No radiation levels exceeding the normal “background” levels were detected. “We really didn’t think we’d find anything, but we wanted to be sure,” Poister said.

DEP inspectors continue to visit the site daily to monitor activities on the well pad.

In addition to radiation sampling, DEP completed air quality sampling and has started soil sampling this week.

DEP conducted basic air quality testing at the site during the incident, Poister said. Sampling also was completed for much more extensive tests that will look for signs of 57 other compounds, Poister said. “We want to be absolutely certain nothing got into the air from the well,” he said.

The air quality results are expected to prepared within the next week and will be made available in summary reports.

DEP also continues to collect information for its investigation to determine not only the cause of the explosion and subsequent fire, but also whether anything can be done from a regulatory standpoint to prevent a similar occurrence, Poister said.

The investigation also will look at the emergency response and incident management in regard to whether improvements can be made, he said.

To view the summary report, visit and click on “Oil and Gas,” “Office of Oil and Gas Management,” “Oil and Gas Related Topics” and then “Radiation Protection.”

Chevron announced earlier this week that it will begin installing plugs about 8,000 feet below the surface in all three wells on the pad as an extra layer of protection to relieve any pressure on the wellheads.

The company is continuing to conduct its investigation into the cause of the incident in cooperation with the DEP and all appropriate regulatory authorities, it 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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