Worker still missing after southwestern Pa. gas well explosion



A worker is still unaccounted for after a natural gas well explosion in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The incident happened around 6:45 a.m. Tuesday morning at Chevron’s Lanco 7H well site in Dunkard Township, Greene County– about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh. The fire continued to burn late Wednesday afternoon. The cause of the explosion remains unknown.

State Rep. Pam Synder (D- Fayette) says state police are treating the site as crime scene, however a death has not been confirmed, and a body has not been found.

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She says a Houston, Texas based company called Wild Well Control, which specializes in these types of incidents, is on the scene.

“They’re doing everything they can. Everybody’s doing everything they can to make sure that this situation is contained, controlled, and over as soon as possible.”

Chevron sent out an update around 3:30 p.m. this afternoon.

“We cannot speculate how long the fire may burn,” said company spokeswoman Lee Ann Wainwright in an email. “We have begun to monitor the air, surface waters, and noise in the area for any signs of impact. At this point we have no indications that this incident has created any safety risk.”

There were a total of 19 workers on the site at the time of the incident, and 18 have been accounted for. Another worker who received minor injuries was treated and released from the hospital yesterday.

Wainwright says Chevron will attempt to control the blaze by shutting off the flow of natural gas to the burning well. There are three gas wells on the site.

“We are closely monitoring the status of the adjacent two wells and are developing contingency plans for those wells if necessary.”

“Deep roaring and burning”

The sound of the fire can be heard for at least one mile away from the site.

Dunkard Township residents Joanne and Edward Herrington say they didn’t hear the blast of the first explosion early Tuesday morning, but the noise continued throughout the day and into the night.

“There was a lot of commotion going up to road, fire trucks, helicopters, but we never put nothing together,” says Joanne Herrington who can hear a “deep roaring and burning” sound from the well pad up the road from her house on Bunner Hill Road. She says the noise was so loud it woke her up at 3 a.m.

“It scared me last night, I woke up to see what was going on,” she says. “I wanted to make sure it wasn’t too close.”

Her husband Edward Herrington, 74, is a retired coal miner who says he worked on shallow natural gas well sites when he got out of high school. But he says he’s not afraid

“It’s a shame to have a job at something like that and that happens,” he says. “You don’t know what to think of it.”

Dunkard Township Supervisor Joe Gacek was watching the plumes of smoke coming off the site in the distance with his young son, Matthew.

“I heard it about 7:30 in the morning yesterday,” Matthew recalls. “It sounded like a big car door just slamming.”

Matthew’s elementary school is about one mile away from the site of the fire. That doesn’t worry his father, Joe.

“They have people that’s handling it their way and just let them handle it,” he says.

Joe Gacek says most people in Dunkard Township make their livelihood through the coal industry and they’re also no strangers to oil and gas drilling.

“Just shows you that it can happen anywhere,” he says. “You just never know.”

Chevron curbs operations

Chevron says there was no drilling or hydraulic fracturing taking place at the time of the incident. Instead, workers were preparing the three wells on the site to go into production.

“Currently our Appalachian operations have been reduced in order to ensure we are able to dedicate the appropriate personnel and resources to this incident,” wrote Chevron spokeswoman Wainwright. “Chevron would like to express our sincere regret to those who may be affected by the incident.”

Data from the state Department of Environmental Protection show there were no previous violations at the site of fire. However since 2011, Chevron Appalachia has received 73 violations from the DEP and paid $44,000 in fines.

Chevron says nearby residents with concerns can call their toll-free line: 1-877-847-8408

This story was originally published on StateImpact Pennsylvania, a joint energy and environmental reporting project by WITF and WHYY.

KDKA-TV, the Pittsburgh CBS affiliate filed this report last night:

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