The fire at a Greene County natural gas well pad extinguished itself on Saturday afternoon and is expected to stay out, allowing crews to move forward with plans to shut down the wells that were damaged by an explosion and fire last week, officials said today.
Chevron said in a statement Sunday evening that it couldn’t say what caused the flames to go out at the two wells that had been burning since February 11, but it noted that the wells are not releasing enough fuel to sustain a fire and a charred crane near the wells has cooled enough to keep the gas from reigniting.
The wells are now venting any gas they release, but they are flowing at a reduced rate because Chevron put a well at a separate pad nearby into production, decreasing some of the pressure underground, Scott Perry, the Department of Environmental Protection’s deputy secretary for oil and gas management, said.
One of the gas monitors ringing the Lanco well pad in Dunkard Township detected enough methane in the air this morning to register for the first time at slightly above 10 percent of the lower explosive limit – a point “still very much within safe ranges,” he said, “but we need to employ an abundance of caution here.”
“We really don’t have any concerns for public safety as a result of that (reading), which is a fraction of one percent of the atmosphere,” he said. But emissions at the site will have to be monitored carefully as work proceeds at the pad now that the fire is out. “Rather than there being a hot zone, there is a potential hot zone,” he said.
Crews will now work to remove the crane from the site and continue staging water in tankers nearby. Ten water tankers were installed on an adjacent well pad on Friday with more added on Saturday and Sunday.
“Water from these tanks will be used to cool the well site and equipment, if necessary, so the wells can safely be worked on and for potential fire prevention and suppression,” Chevron said in its statement.
DEP granted the company an emergency permit over the weekend to draw an estimated 420,000 gallons a day from nearby Dunkard Creek and transport it by truck or temporary pipeline to the tanks, Perry said.
“We believe that the water withdrawal in Dunkard Creek will have absolutely no effect on stream quality,” he said.
Nineteen workers were on the site about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh at the time of the explosion on Tuesday morning. One worker is still unaccounted for and is presumed dead, although officials had no update about his status this morning. Another worker suffered minor injuries.
Officials do not yet know what caused the explosion.
Chevron and Wild Well Control, a Texas company that specializes in oil and gas well fires, plan to remove the burned crane from the site tomorrow then begin work to replace the damaged wellheads with new ones, Perry said.
The companies plan to direct gas away from the wells with a 30-foot-long pipe suspended by a crane so that workers can cap the wells and shut off their flow, he said.
“The great news is that we’re beyond the planning stages here,” Perry said. “We’re in the implementation stage.”