Energy. Environment. Economy.

Natural gas well explodes in southwest Pennsylvania [UPDATED]

Last updated at 10:55 a.m. Thursday Click here for more updates.

The Associated Press reports one worker is injured and another missing after a natural gas well exploded early Tuesday morning in Dunkard Township, Greene County in southwest Pennsylvania.

More details from the AP:

Chevron spokesman Trip Oliver says the fire was reported at about 6:45 a.m. at the Lanco 7H well in Dunkard Township, near Bobtown. That’s about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh. Oliver says one person is reported hospitalized and another is currently unaccounted for.

Oliver says Chevron personnel immediately responded to the fire and called in assistance from Wild Well Control.

Ambulance and emergency medical crews have been summoned to the scene, and state police have reportedly set up a half-mile perimeter.

Crews at the scene report that intense flames have kept them from getting too close to the well.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports the fire was still burning at noon and plumes of smoke were billowing from the site. See the Lanco 7H well on our Shale Play map here.

More details from the Post-Gazette:

DEP spokesman John Poister said that Chevron flew in a Wild Well Control team from Houston this morning and it arrived at Pittsburgh International Airport at 12:45 p.m.

He said the team had begun its evaluation of the situation prior to making an attempt to choke off the natural gas spewing from the well and put out the fire.

The state Department of Environmental Protection and the Greene County Emergency Management Agency also are on the scene, and help from the Southwestern Pennsylvania Red Cross has been requested.

Mr. Poister said the fire was complicated further by a truck on the well pad that contained propane, which became involved in the fire and also exploded. The fire was so intense that firefighters had to pull back from the flames, he said.

“They essentially retreated to let the fire burn,” Mr. Poister said.

“Chevron’s primary concern at this point is to contain the fire and ensure the safety of its employees, contractors and the surrounding community,” said Chevron Spokesman Kent Robertson in an e-mail.

Here’s a video of the fire posted by WPXI at 1:30 p.m.

As StateImpact Texas has reported, Houston-based Wild Well Control has trained local first responders in Pennsylvania, many of them small volunteer fire companies, to handle incidents like well blowouts.

As of 6:10 p.m. Tuesday one worker is still missing. Chevron says another worker with minor injuries has been released from the hospital.

“Chevron would like to express our sincere regret to those who were affected by the incident,” the company said in a statement.

Chevron says nearby residents with concerns can call the company’s hotline: 1-877-847-8408*

Update 10:05 a.m. Wednesday: One worker is still unaccounted for. According to the state Department of Environmental Protection, the fire is still burning Wednesday morning. The cause of the explosion remains unknown.

DEP spokesman John Poister says Houston, Texas-based Wild Well Control is on the scene and still determining the best way to attack the blaze.

“Because no danger of it spreading, they’re taking their time to determine exactly what equipment they need,” he says. “We are probably going to do some air sampling as we get closer to the time when Wild Well will begin their work.”

Chevron update 3:35 p.m. Wednesday: One worker is still missing. The fire is still burning at the well site from an uncontrolled well release.

“At this time we cannot speculate how long the fire may burn,” Chevron spokeswoman Lee Ann Wainwright writes 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.”

DEP update 6:15 p.m. Wedneday: DEP Secretary Chris Abruzzo attended a briefing today with officials from Chevron, the contracting company Cameron International, and Wild Well Control. He explained that there is a truck next to the flaming well that is absorbing a significant amount of heat, and making it more difficult for the flames to be extinguished.

Abruzzo says windy conditions have helped disperse vapors into the atmosphere instead of settling into the valley where most of the homes are. DEP staff used hand-held monitors on the site.
“They were getting negative readings in terms of volatile organic compounds and other explosive-type gases,” he says.
The DEP will continue to place air sampling devices in the area around the well site.
“We don’t have any real concerns that there are people in the immediate area that may have been harmed either because of the initial explosion or ignition or from vapors,” he says. “This just demonstrates why making sure that the location of well pads is done responsibly because at the end of the day the most important thing for all of us is the protection of our citizens.”
Update 10:55 a.m. Thursday: A worker is still missing. Governor Corbett issued the following statement this morning:
“Our focus right now is making sure workers and first responders are safe, and we are concerned about the potential loss of life,” said Corbett.
“Yesterday, I directed Secretary of Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Chris Abruzzo and other executive level DEP staff to get to the site and assist authorities in managing this incident. State authorities have also been in touch with the company to work together and resolve immediate needs.  I have also directed Secretary Abruzzo to work with the appropriate state, county and local authorities and create a multi-agency investigation after this incident concludes. We need to determine exactly what happened and how we can learn from it.”

StateImpact Pennsylvania will update this story as more details become available. Click here for more coverage.

*Note: a previous version of this story had an inaccurate phone number. It has been corrected.


  • kennedy

    how do you know that gas will explode in SW

    • Johnson

      Hey Kennedy, Article is not titled gas “will” explode in SW Pa, a gas “well” exploded. Wow….

  • physicsandchem

    And people want to put gas wells near homes and schools???? Is any amount of money and jobs worth risking this?

    • Greg

      1. There is no absolutely safe method of doing anything. My spouse spent the entire day yesterday at this site.

      2. Yes, I would allow drilling on my property. I am not a fan of fracking, but if it will help reduce our dependence on foreign countries, I can support it. Use it until something better is available and economically feasible.

      A vibrant free market economy needs plentiful and cost effective energy to grow, produce and maintain employment.

      3. The only power generation source I would oppose, in its current state, is nuclear. Until some solution for “immediate” disposal of radioactive waste, such as a commercial scale plasma converter, I can not willfully place the burden of maintaining our waste piles on our kids, grand kids, and so on down the generations.

      • physicsandchem

        Of course, nothing is absolutely safe. People are killed walking across the street and sitting in their homes. My point is that gas wells and other inherently dangerous installations should not be near homes and schools.
        If you will allow drilling on your property, I can understand reasons for that, but will you allow it near your home? I hope you would want the drilling far enough from anyone’s house to make significant damage to homes and people unlikely in the event of an accident.

        • Fred Pyro

          I agree, there should be a safe buffer zone whenever possible, why endanger people for no good reason. Most, not all are well away from populated areas, I am ok with drilling, but have included in my lease that they can not put one closer than 1500 feet from any of my structures on my property.

          • physicsandchem

            Sounds like a reasonable precaution to me, even though I believe that fracking endangers the existence of the human race. Would PA964 take similar precautions?

          • PA964

            Exclusion zone of 2000 feet from the outer edge of the containment field. Full containment facilities on all four sides of pads, not three like most are allowed to do, and the downward edge containment has to be 250% of possible brine storage. Plus they will replace all foliage p to within 10 feet of either side of their access road.

            Near a school, is not up to me, and I have not met anyone in the drilling industry that would go within a mile of a school for a drilling pad and 2500 feet for a storage facility. I don’t think I know that many people in the industry, but I am finding there are more involved than I could have imagined. Most in servicing or supply, but benefiting from oil and gas.

            I have 300 acres, my neighbor has 13,000 +/- @ $ 3,700 /acre, they are no longer in danger of loosing their farm. Yeah, he has income from leasing of $ 48,100,000

          • physicsandchem

            I’m truly glad that you have taken what many people would consider prudent precautions to protect your family and the productivity of your land. Ditto that your neighbor will keep their farm. I hope your children will still be happy about your decision fifty years from now.
            My fear is that eventually the containment facilities will fail, as all things made by man eventually must, and the land you will leave to your descendants will loose the ability to feed them. When that happens, no amount of money will protect people from the madness that will follow. I pray that I am wrong, but I fear that I am not.

          • PA964

            There remains 3 yrs & 8 months for exploratory drilling under the lease, then we have the option to renew, or not.

            To me, a more immediate concern is the damage we are doing to ourselves and environment by allowing companies like Monsanto (championed and protected by Obama and his administration) to decimate, contaminate and forever change our food supply and environment with genetically modified organisms.

          • physicsandchem

            Please, let’s have one discussion at a time. This article is about natural gas wells.
            Just to be clear between us, we have some [not total] disagreement on fracking. We are both strongly opposed to GMOs. I would like to keep the discussions separate, so that it is easier to cooperate in those areas where we agree.
            I wish you, your family and your neighbor well.

          • PA964

            No problem, although I do tend to wander on subject matter. Would be interested in some explanation of how hydraulic fracturing will bring an end to the human race.

            in this area, drilling to a depth of approximately 6,800 feet and then turning drilling horizontal and fracturing the Utica shale rock around it.

            Containment facilities designed to hold associated materials are only as good as the people who make, install and maintain them.

            Delving further into my lease agreement,

            no in-ground storage or disposal of brine or other fluids. Stipulations for all fluids not required for safety reasons to be removed from site if drilling and/or production is production is halted for more than 4 calendar days. Also, We also specifically agreed upon for access road placement and two designated areas where well pads can be constructed, both of which are in reclaimed strip mines that have little probability of producing food, but have managed to bring back some native species of trees, with a little help from rigorous planting of seedlings and aggressive removal of invasive species.

          • physicsandchem

            You have clearly taken steps intended to keep your land safe.

            1- “how hydraulic fracturing will bring an end to the human race.” There is evidence that fracking fluids are
            bad for plants and animals. When enough
            land and water are unfit for food production, the resulting wars will be worse than any that man has experienced.
            Eventually, all the poison will make its’ way to the surface. There is no way to purify returned/produced
            water because we do not know what is in it.

            2- “drilling to a depth of approximately 6,800 feet”
            The well itself will provide a direct route to the surface. The casing will eventually fail.

            3- “Delving further into my lease agreement,” The brine and other fluids have to go somewhere, even if that is not on your land.
            Will you have a way to enforce the agreement if the fluids are not removed? Will you be able to easily
            confirm compliance with the agreement? Are
            they posting a bond of any sort to protect you if they fail to keep the agreement? I assure you, from personal experience, that if a cost-benefit calculation shows that a company is better off doing nothing, that is exactly what they will do, regardless of the danger to people.

            Reclaimed strip mines are clearly not much use for food production. You are making a real effort to make the land
            as visually appealing and productive as possible. It would be a good place for the well pads, if I did not believe that the pads themselves are a very bad idea.

            I think that if we ever meet, it will be as friends.
            I have never required that my friends agree with me on everything. We both care about the land. It is just that I see greater danger than you do. I hope that I am wrong, but fear that I am not.

          • PA964

            bonding and certification of removal as well as proof of brine or other fluids have been received by a licensed processing or disposal facility that does not dispose of by deep well injection. The disposal certification is so that I have less of a liability should any of the materials from wells on my property (if the wells are drilled) end up in places where they should not have been delivered.

            I agree that we would probably at least friendly, if not friends. I enjoy intelligent discussions that will not deteriorate into name calling and belligerence. But on the other hand, complete agreement, all the time gets boring and would seem to indicate that one of the individuals may not be thinking or exploring on their own, or maybe not willing to stand up for their ideas.

          • physicsandchem

            Disposal certification is a very good idea. I am not a lawyer, but I think that should protect you from liability. In any case, it is the best that most people can do to prevent environmental damage. We should be able to trust licensed companies and the law.

            Unfortunately for me, I am a chemist and know better. The entire oil and gas industry is exempt from the federal Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. Thus, when an oil or gas company says that they are complying with the law, they can easily be telling the truth. Yet they can be doing great harm because they are not covered by the two most powerful laws designed to protect the environment.

            As a chemist, I assure you that there is no way to
            be confident that any process will render fracking fluids, flowback and produced water safe. The reason is quite simple; if one does not know what the contaminants are, one cannot know that they have been removed. Even First Responders and treatment facilities do not know what is in these fluids. [A side issue: this is a very dirty trick to play on First Responders.]

            If you are willing and able, I would very much like to know how the licensed processing or disposal facility treats and disposes of the fluids they receive. If they are indeed doing this safely, I will feel much better. To be explicit: I do not consider this your responsibility. You are behaving quite reasonably, indeed better than most, and this could open a hornets’ nest.

            OK. “at least friendly, if not friends.” That is not a distinction I normally make, but perhaps I should.

            Be well.

          • PA964

            Thank you. My spouse is in an Emergency Management position and has been on scene since Tuesday, Will more than likely be there until the emissions, both gas and liquid, are stopped.

          • physicsandchem

            I suspect the outlook is not good for the missing worker. I hope your spouse and all others involved
            stay safe.

      • sj

        The gas drilled on your property will primarily be exported to foreign markets where the price is higher. No energy security … just corporate profits. If we had a REAL national energy policy, we would leave all fossil fuels in the ground with the exception of what we need for domestic use. The domestic price would be better for the energy companies, and the fossil fuels would still be there for when we REALLY need it.

        • Fred Pyro

          SJ, while that may become an option, currenty it is still illegal to export Natural Gas, not that it would matter, if it were exported, for once the money would be coming into the country instead of leaving it.

  • PA964

    My spouse is headed back to the site, for a second day of work on reaching a solution to this incident.

    Keep this in mind. The work that these guys do, keeps your house warm and the lights on. If you want to go off grid, call your utilities and get disconnected. If you want the benefits of “modern” comforts, but not the risks associated, find a way to do it and sell it. Moan and complain, but in the end do nothing? YOU are part of the problem too.

    Tried the off grid thing, Youth services filed suit to make my family reconnect “for the safety of the children”. I have long ago, had enough of being told how to live and what to think. Get your news from the BBC, they have no agenda here in the motherland.

    • SJ

      You don’t have to get “off the grid” to avoid use of fossil fuels! All you have to do is buy locally produced wind and solar energy from Ambit, Ethical Electric, Green Mountain Energy, or Viridian. Creates jobs in PA, produces no polution or greenhouse gases, improves US energy independence, and the price is very reasonable. Takes 15 minutes to sign up online. PennFuture’s website has a list of all of them with links to their websites.

  • Julieann Wozniak

    News choppers spent Tuesday circling my town like vultures, looking for the blood and guts. The persistent WPXI news truck was still hanging around at 4PM, when I left to do some shopping in Morgantown. None of them seem interested in Chevron’s environmental and safety record. Alas, this is the status quo in Corbett’s PA: lax regulation and slipshod enforcement. Too many wells are located too close to the already impaired Dunkard Creek, and well be getting another big shot of highly carcinogenic air for at least another week. Hatfield is gone, but our air quality still sucks.

    In response to PA964, gas drilled here is mostly for export, so as to maximize corporate profit. Our health and safety does not matter.

  • sj

    Is there no technology in place to automatically cap the well when this happens?!

    • PA964

      Automatic cap, not really, as a true cap involves several applications of concrete and concrete like compounds. It is not like capping a bottle of soda. In a blowout, most of those built in safety mesures are compromised or flat out eliminated.

      Right now, the worst thing that could happen, is for the fire to go out… sounds weird, but true. The fire is burning off the escaping gasses. If that stops, it only stops the burning of the gas, not the escaping of the gases. A few of the products could be liquid, or wet gas, but methane, the main product is heavier than air and could fill the entire valley around the drilling site.

      Hopefully the brine bubbling up will not extinguish the flame, so the folks from Wild Well Control, will be able to do a full kill on this blowout. Burning ones are easier and safer than gas only.

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