Worker remains missing as Chevron well continues to burn

DILLINER, Pa. (AP) — State environmental officials and expert firefighters brought in by Chevron have been continuing to monitor a burning Marcellus Shale natural gas well in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The well about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh in Dunkard Township erupted into flames shortly before 7 a.m. Tuesday, injuring one worker and leaving one still unaccounted for early Wednesday.

State Department of Environmental Protection officials say the fire may burn for days, delaying efforts to determine its cause.

DEP spokesman Jon Poister says experts from Houston-based Wild Well Control arrived on the site Tuesday evening to begin working out a plan to extinguish the fire.

The Texas company specializes in responding to well site fires around the country, including one in Indiana Township, near Pittsburgh, that killed two welders in July 2010.

Chevron said the burning well is Lanco 7H in Dunkard Township, near Bobtown, about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh. Chevron spokeswoman Lee Ann Wainwright said the injured worker was released from the hospital after being treated for minor injuries.

The workers’ names were not released.

Department of Environmental Protection spokesman John Poister said the well is located in a rural area where no homes or schools are located nearby. He said a DEP team at the site found no signs of threats to public health, noting that the fire was burning off volatile organic compounds in the gas. However, the fire was burning so hot that DEP crews have had to stay about 300 yards away, he said.

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Poister said the agency now suspects the explosion and fire occurred on the surface and didn’t happen inside the well itself. The industry refers to incidents where they lose control of an oil or gas well as blowouts, but they can take place inside a well — because of a rapid increase in oil or gas pressure that ruptures pipes — or at the surface, because of sparks or other causes. Poister said further investigation will be needed.

Poister said of the missing worker that everyone “just hopes for the best.”

Chevron had previously completed drilling and hydraulically fracturing, or fracking, the well and was in the final stages of using steel pipe to hook it up to a pipeline distribution network for production, he said.

State police established a half-mile perimeter around the well.

“We want to find out how this happened and why,” Poister said, adding that it was the first serious Marcellus Shale well explosion in western Pennsylvania.

The Marcellus Shale formation lies under large parts of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and other neighboring states; it’s currently the country’s most productive natural gas field.

Poister said experts from Houston-based Wild Well Control arrived on the site Tuesday evening to begin working out a plan to extinguish the fire. The Texas company specializes in responding to well site fires around the country, and Wild Well representative Patti Green provided statistics that suggest major fires are rare. In the U.S. last year, Wild Well responded to five surface well blowouts accompanied by fires and 25 other surface blowouts that had no fires.


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