Energy. Environment. Economy.

Crews cap leaking Chevron gas well that started fire in Southwest Pa.

A fire broke out on a Chevron natural gas well pad in Dunkard Township, Greene County, Pa. early Tuesday morning. The flames extinguished themselves on Saturday afternoon.

Katie Colaneri/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

A fire broke out on a Chevron natural gas well pad in Dunkard Township, Greene County, Pa. on Feb. 11.

On Sunday afternoon, crews capped a leaking Chevron natural gas well in Greene County that caught fire nearly two weeks ago, resulting in the death of a 27-year-old contract worker.

Methane gas continues to spew from a second well that also ignited on February 11 in Dunkard Township. Chevron says it could be a few more days before Texas-based Wild Well Control can shut off the flow.

In the meantime, the Department of Environmental Protection has been monitoring air and water quality in the area and says the releases should not be harmful to nearby residents.

Scott Perry, the DEP’s Deputy Secretary for Oil and Gas Management who was on the scene in Greene County last week, says Wild Well Control has estimated the two wells were initially venting between 10 and 25 million cubic feet of gas a day.

“They were estimating high so they could establish a conservative safe zone,” Perry says, noting the flow of gas had since decreased.

In the days following the initial explosion and fire on the well site, Chevron put wells on a neighboring pad into production to reduce the pressure underground and stem the flow of the gas to the flaming wells. Both wells extinguished themselves five days later.

Official cause still unknown

While the official cause of the explosion is still under investigation, the DEP’s Scott Perry says the problem may have come from a defect in the wellhead itself. Chevron’s wellheads are ringed with collars that have set pins running horizontally through them. Perry says one of the pins may have blown out of the collar, releasing the gas.

At the time, 19 contractors were on the site, but not working not directly at the wellhead. When the well began making a hissing sound, Perry says two of the workers approached to investigate as the explosion occurred.

One of the two workers was released from the hospital the same day with minor injuries. The other, 27-year-old Ian McKee, was considered a missing person until state police confirmed that his remains had been found more than a week later. He leaves behind a fiancee who is pregnant with his child.

Perry says every three days, inspectors with DEP and Chevron have been making the rounds at some of the company’s other well sites to check the integrity of the wellheads.

“We’re confident the remaining wells are stable,” Perry says. “Chevron has every contingency that we could think of. We’re very comfortable with how they are proceeding.”

Chevron comes under fire

Pennsylvania lawmakers have praised the DEP for a “textbook response” to the Greene County well fire and aftermath, while Chevron continues to be the subject of online mockery and newspaper opinion pages after it was reported the company’s community outreach staff gave local residents gift certificates for pizza and soda.

Chevron has said the meals were meant as a “token of appreciation” to residents and a show of support to local businesses after the fire.

On Monday, anti-drilling groups delivered petitions in pizza boxes to Chevron’s field office in Smithfield, Pennsylvania.

“We want them to apologize publicly and lay out for the public what exactly they are going to do for these people,” says Karen Feridun with the group Berks Gas Truth.

“What are they going to do to make sure this doesn’t happen again? How transparent are they going to be as to the results of their investigation?”

The day after the fire started, local residents told StateImpact Pennsylvania they were acquainted with the dangers of extractive industries like natural gas drilling and coal mining. There is an active deep coal mine at the base of the hill where the Chevron well pad caught fire.

Edward Herrington, 74, worked in the mines for 27 years as a mechanic and a maintenance foreman.

“You gotta have your coal and your gas, that’s a must to heat with,” Herrington told StateImpact Pennsylvania that day.

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


  • DeanMarshall

    Scott Perry lied to my face the very first time I met him, nearly 4 yrs ago in Sullivan Co. Courthouse. During a Phony, “Informational” meeting led by a cadre of local Gas Shills like John Silla, and Comm. Pickett, Mr. Perry side-stepped and minimized all questions about safety of drilling, emissions, and waste handling. When asked directly about the practice of mixing liquid waste with wood chips and transporting same to landfills, Scott Perry insisted that it “Becomes Residual Waste”,( Magically?), when the chips soak up the liquid….mainly so it doesn’t dribble from the dumpsters en-route”. When I pressed him further about the levels of accumulating Radioactivity in this waste disposal method he denied it was any problem. DEP should not wonder why they have negative credibility when their directors and Gov. Corbett twist the truth and maintain an agency that is only a token regulator of this Extremely dangerous and irresponsible industry!

    • Jack Wolf

      Not only that, but the PA DEP director does not accept climate change, let alone agree that it is occurring now as stated by countless scientific organizations. That is asking for trouble – how can he form any sort of rational environmental policy for anything environmental?
      And, my regrets to the family.

      • Roger Maple

        So only the “countless scientific organizations” that can skew a model to show a theory to be plausible are credible, but the organizations that can prove without a doubt that man made climate change is a myth should not be considered? Im assuming you must be Amish since any use of gas or oil would make you a hypocrate is why you want to regulate the industry out of business.

        • Jack Wolf

          Which model and what organization are you referring to? I can see that you do not have a science background by the generalities you throw about. And, plenty of Amish use gas and oil in their generators. I was just at an Amish lumber mill last week and guess what?

          • Roger Maple

            You’re right Jack. 22 years as a Geophysicist out of the Colorado Scool of Mines and life member of SEG don’t qualify me by you’re standards because it is not one of the “countless scientific organization” you facelessly refer to. So while you sit there in your underware in the basement of your ex girlfriends parents house doing drive-by’s on articles you think you can use as a platform for your activism, try to come up with the name of one of your “countless scientific organization” that are credible. Otherwise I’m assuming you are getting your mantra from the likes of Green Peace, Al Gore, Al Roker, or those climate fools who got stuck in the Antarctic ice.

          • Jack Wolf

            Cornell, 83 and CMU, 93. Check with the National Academy, NASA, the Royal Society, the AMA, the AGU, etc. And, you didn’t answer the question of modeling… Which ones are skewed and how? And what is it about you guys and your tendency to fantasize on the attributes of those who do not agree with you? Girl-friend’s basement, LOL.

    • Roger Maple

      The DEP which is inherently bias against the oil and gas industry, 5 years ago was supposed find fault of all the allegations against the induntry and be heros for the activist movement. However, now that they have done thorough investigations and could not prove any of the major allegations against the industry now have “negative credibility”. Oil and gas is the most regulated industry in the world, and even though very rare accidents happen like this one, it is one of the safest industries to work in. I propose that the agency regulate you in your house so that you dont accidently burn down your house which would spew toxic fumes into the air and possibly kill you and any one in it.

  • Fracked

    I would hope there will be an honest discussion now about “setbacks”. How close to a gas well should a home be? A school?

    • Jack Wolf

      You might want to review the proposed changes to PA DEP’s oil and gas regulations. But, I’d say miles if not further, like in another state.

      • Fracked

        we have a gas well near here that is 320 feet from a home. Leases allow 300 in some cases 200 feet unless the landowner wants it closer!!!

        • Jack Wolf

          I hope everyone realizes that this setback, and many other setback requirements in other regulations, is an arbitrary number not based on any scientific evidence.

          • Roger Maple

            Indeciferable babble.

          • Jack Wolf

            Can you cite me the journal paper that recommends setbacks? You can’t because they don’t exist. Those isolation distances are policy rather than scientific determinations.

          • Roger Maple

            And as you can see, that policy works. Even with two wells on fire, it was contained to well pad. You probably don’t remember, because im sure you are still in high school, but during the first gulf war Sadam set hundreds of wells on fire before they left Kuwait. Do you really think the industry has no idea as to the limitations of a well fire?

          • Jack Wolf

            I was in my early 30s and working at a health department at the time. Here is some info from AGU about the flume of those fires. Note that the measurements were taken about 150 to 200 miles from the fires. I’m sorry, but if a house was 300 feet from that oil fire, it would be gone. And, for these PA fires, if I lived 300 feet away, I’d want to know what was in the flume covering my house and lungs.

            21 SEP 2012 DOI: 10.1029/93JD01204:
            Aerosol mass (based on measured aerosol constituents) in the central section of the plume, ca. 150–200 km downwind of the source region, was found to be >500 μg/m3, with number densities in the size range (approximate) 0.2 < d < 3 μm (where d is diameter) as high as 30,000/cm3. The aerosol was composed of (in order of approximate contribution to mass) inorganic salts, elemental carbon, and organic carbon. Sodium chloride constituted a surprisingly large component of the soluble inorganic mass. The aerosol particles appeared to function as good cloud condensation nuclei, with a large fraction of accumulation mode particles (by number) activated at a supersaturation of 0.6%. Under conditions in which the plume was relatively compact, transmittance of solar radiation to the surface was only 10–20%. Plume albedo was observed to be as low as 2–3% close to the source region, consistent with the high elemental-carbon concentrations present in the plume. Trace gas concentrations were consistent with fuel composition and with current knowledge of atmospheric chemical processes. Sulfur dioxide concentrations close to the source region were found to be as high as 300–400 ppb. The emissions factor for S (expressed as a percentage) was estimated to be 1.8%, which is consistent with estimates of a fuel sulfur content of 2–2.5%. SO2 was found to be only slowly oxidized (<1%/h). Nitrogen oxide concentrations were found to be quite low (<50 ppb near the source, decreasing to 1–2 ppb well downwind), which is consistent with a crude oil nitrogen source. Despite relatively low concentrations, sufficient NOx was present to act as a catalyst to generate excess ozone in the plume as the plume was transported downwind and dispersed.

          • Jack Wolf

            Were there houses 300 feet away in these fires? That’s less than the length of an entire football field. I found this in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (6/99):

            The burning of oil wells in Kuwait in 1991 discharged a high volume of potentially toxic pollutants into the air. To determine whether there were health-related complaints associated with having lived and worked there, questionnaires were administered to 1599 soldiers after their return from a 3-month mission in Kuwait. Symptoms occurring before, during, and after the mission were queried. Compared with baseline, symptoms reported more frequently for the Kuwait period were eye and upper respiratory tract irritation, shortness of breath, cough, rashes, and fatigue. Symptoms were associated with reported proximity to oil fires, and their incidence generally decreased after the soldiers left Kuwait. Oil-fire smoke is one of several possible factors that may have contributed to the reporting of symptoms.

      • Katy

        75ft in Fort Worth tax from wellhead to the fence of a home in a subdivision. Ignorance

      • Roger Maple

        Like in another state must be the scientific term for I have no idea what im talking about. Like most activist who can only communicate in slogans and qoute statements from bias sources, im sure you have yourself “reviewed the proposed changes to PA DEP’s oil and gas regulations.

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