Lawsuit filed in well explosion death

July 2, 2014
Katie Roupe / Observer-Reporter This Chevron gas well fire in Dunkard Township in February claimed the life of 27-year-old contract worker Ian McKee. McKee’s parents have filed a wrongful death suit against Chevron.

DUNKARD – The parents of Ian McKee, 27, of Morgantown, W.Va., who was killed in a gas well explosion in Dunkard Township Feb. 11, filed a lawsuit against Chevron Appalachia, LLC, seeking information in their son’s death. McKee’s remains were recovered Feb. 19 by state police and a team from Wild Well Control of Houston, Texas, brought in by Chevron to extinguish the blaze at the Lanco well pad.

Attorney John P. Gismondi, representing Denise and Robert McKee, said the suit, filed more than a week ago in Allegheny County, will provide the McKees with knowledge about what transpired the day their son was killed. The McKees allege the explosion was the result of negligence on the part of Chevron in properly maintaining the well.

“This was a serious situation and something obviously went wrong,” Gismondi said. “Chevron has a lot of information about what went on at that well site. This suit was filed so we can get the information that we need to have from Chevron to know what was going on out there.”

The investigation by the Department of Environmental Protection into the explosion is ongoing. Though McKee was working for a Chevron subcontractor, Houston-based Cameron International, Gismondi said Chevron was in charge of the well and ultimately responsible for it.

Chevron and Wild Well Control worked collaboratively to design and execute a well intervention plan for the two wells that caught fire. Weather complications and issues related to debris at the site lengthened the process and the well fire self-extinguished Feb. 15.

Ten days later, Wild Well Control capped the second of the two wells leaking gas at the site. The first was capped Feb. 23.

In April, DEP spokesman John Poister told the Observer-Reporter that Chevron barred DEP personnel from access to the site on the day of the explosion and would not permit the agency’s emergency response vehicle to enter an area where the company’s own emergency personnel were staged. Poister’s comments came after the DEP issued nine citations against the company for the explosion.

It wasn’t until the day after the explosion, when DEP Secretary Chris Abruzzo visited the site and met with Chevron officials, that DEP staff began to gain more access to the property, according to Poister.

Chevron initially told DEP it didn’t want anyone near the well site because of safety concerns, Poister said. “They were concerned about the stability of the well … It was burning out of control and was very, very hot,” he said.

However, Chevron’s well permits gave DEP “free and unrestricted access” to its well sites. DEP personnel, in addition, have the expertise and experience to understand an emergency situation and the possible dangers, Poister said.

The DEP’s emergency response vehicle had equipment that would have allowed the agency to monitor conditions at the site, including air quality, which is important to public safety during this type of emergency, Poister said.

Chevron also did not initially provide DEP staff access to the company’s joint command center, where discussions were apparently held regarding the conditions of the well and possible efforts to extinguish the blaze.

“We believe we should have been part of the discussions,” Poister said, noting Chevron did however provide the DEP with updates.

None of the company’s action in regard to DEP’s access to the site is believed to have interfered with our investigation into the cause of the explosion, Poister said.

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.

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