Lawmakers praise DEP response to gas well fire

  • Marie Cusick

DEP Secretary Chris Abruzzo (center) with with deputy secretaries Jeff Logan (Ieft) and   Dana Aunkst (right) at the department's senate budget hearing in Harrisburg.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

DEP Secretary Chris Abruzzo (center) with with deputy secretaries Jeff Logan (Ieft) and Dana Aunkst (right) at the department's senate budget hearing in Harrisburg.

The first budget hearing of the state Department of Environmental Protection this year focused less on the budget and more on the department’s rapid response to recent environmental accidents.
Legislators from both parties praised DEP Secretary Chris Abruzzo for the way the department handled last week’s natural gas well fire and oil train derailment in western Pennsylvania.
“Everybody did what was to be done when that type of situation occurs. It was textbook.” said Sen. Tim Solobay (D- Greene), referring to the gas well fire.
He asked Abruzzo if he had suggestions to make future emergency response improvements.
“There are undoubtedly things I’ll want to see us do better,” Abruzzo replied, without giving specifics. “We will do our own internal review. And certainly, we’re going to scrutinize the actions of [Chevron].”
Sen. John Yudichak (D- Carbon) also praised the DEP for its timely response, but complained that specialized fire fighters from Wild Well Control, of Houston, Texas, could have arrived on the scene in Greene County sooner.
“The emergency response team was not as quick,” said Yudichak, referring to Wild Well Control. “The average over the years to these well fires is about nine hours.”
He asked Abruzzo about negotiations under the Rendell administration between the DEP and gas well fire companies to shorten the response time.
“I can tell you there no current negotiations between DEP and any of these private well contractors,” said Abruzzo.  “The contractors do have a business location in Pennsylvania. They keep equipment at that location. Pennsylvania’s a very large state. I don’t know how many teams would have to be in place on standby. I’m not opposed to exploring it further.”
Sen. Lisa Baker (R- Wyoming) said she’d like to convene a work group or a hold a follow-up hearing to examine the DEP’s internal review and look into having specialized gas well firefighters closer.
“I think there are lessons we can learn,” she said.
Abruzzo was also asked by Yudichak about recent oil train derailments– including an accident last month in Philadelphia, and last week’s derailment in Vandergrift, which spilled several thousand gallons of crude oil.
“I believe we have sufficient protections in place, from the department’s perspective.” Abruzzo said. “After the issue in Philadelphia, [the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency] is working with CSX to get real-time information, in terms of what is being transported on their lines. That knowledge is helpful to all of us. I hope they can replicate that strategy with Norfolk Southern.”

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