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March 2, 2015

One unaccounted for in gas well explosion in Greene

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Posted: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 6:00 pm | Updated: 10:35 pm, Mon Dec 22, 2014.

Officials say expert gas well firefighters are assessing a gas well blaze in Dunkard Township, Greene County, after the Marcellus Shale site exploded early Tuesday.

And state police have confirmed that one person remains unaccounted for and another was injured as a result of the blast at the Chevron well site.

Volunteer firefighters from a half-dozen companies responded to the blaze at the gas well located on Water Tank Road shortly before 7 a.m.

Trooper Stefani Plume said the injured worker, whose identity has not been released, was taken to a local hospital for treatment of minor injuries and is expected to survive. Company officials have also not released the identity of the oilfield employee who remains unaccounted for.

She said that firefighters have been held at a safe distance from the blaze and noted that it could be several days before fire suppression crews are able to gain access to the fire.

Plume confirmed that crews from Wild Well Control, oil and gas well fire specialists based in Texas with an outpost in Canonsburg, were called to the scene, but could not comment further about protocol or what Wild Well officials will do to try and contain the fire, noting that Chevron officials should know more about what procedures would be followed.

Chevron issued a blanket statement regarding the incident and confirmed that emergency response procedures have been initiated, but they failed to detail exactly what those measures entail.

“Our primary concern is to contain the fire and ensure the safety of employees, contractors and the surrounding community. We will provide updates as more information becomes available,” the statement read.

Chevron officials were slated to hold a press conference in conjunction with state police at 1 p.m. in Bobtown, but after delaying for 40 minutes, local Chevron spokesperson Mikal Zimmerman declined to comment on the incident and requested email contacts from all assembled media outlets for future updates.

Plume then held a brief press conference confirming reports regarding the blaze and that a worker remains unaccounted for.

She said that state police will continue to coordinate with volunteer firefighters and Chevron officials and maintain road blocks at access points to the well site.

Plume said that no one was evacuated as a result of the blaze and that a working perimeter of ¼-mile has been established around the fire.

“We know that the fire has not been contained and that we have been told that our investigators will not have access to the site for a few days,” she said, noting that the heat generated by the fire is too intense to approach the well.

The fire occurred at the Lanco 7H well, which was permitted to Chevron in January of 2012 and drilled two months later, according to county statistics. The cause of the fire was not immediately known.

According to the website fracktrack.org, Chevron maintains 22 of the 46 Marcellus Shale gas wells in Dunkard Township.

Todd Toland of Washington said his crew from Pacific Processing Systems was working at the well when the explosion occurred.

Toland, an operations manager for the Houston, Texas, company that specializes in oilfield services, said the Pacific Processing crew was conducting routine services at the well site when the explosion and fire began.

He said he was not aware of how the blast occurred.

“We got all our guys away from the scene,” Toland said. “All I know is that they have a fire that is out of control.”

Plume said that several other subcontractors were working at the site when the explosion occurred, noting that between 20 and 30 people were at the location Tuesday morning.

State Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Jefferson, said representatives from the state Department of Environmental Protection and Greene County Emergency Management Agency joined state police at the scene Tuesday morning.

"I have been hoping and praying all day that everyone is okay," she said.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety, released a brief statement following the blast.

“My office has been in contact with the Occupational Safety and Heath Administration and has encouraged them to investigate this well explosion,” Casey said. “I've repeatedly encouraged the administration and companies to make the safety of pipelines and gas wells a priority. Moving forward, it's critical that all stakeholders increase their vigilance and oversight of these issues in order to better protect public safety.”

Marcellus Shale is a rock formation that underlies about two-thirds of the state and portions of New York, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky and Virginia, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection. The rock formation holds trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. The most productive region of the rock formation is located at depths between 5,000 to 8,500 feet below the ground surface.

Extracting natural gas from Marcellus Shale requires both vertical and horizontal drilling, combined with a process known as hydraulic fracturing. The Lanco 7H well is a horizontal gas well, according to permitting records.

The DEP reports that more than 350,000 oil and gas wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania over the last 150 years and said that all oil and gas exploration are regulated by state law.

The explosion and subsequent fire began almost exactly 10 years after a massive gas well fire kept emergency crews busy for several days in German Township, Fayette County, about 10 miles from the Greene County blaze.

On Feb. 2, 2004, gas well drillers for Atlas Resources struck an underground pocket of oil resulting in a spout of flames that reached heights of 100 feet.

That fire was extinguished a few days later with oil well experts from Texas joining forces with fire suppression experts from Halliburton. No one was injured as a result of the blaze.

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