Energy. Environment. Economy.

Chevron blocked access to DEP after fatal well fire in southwest Pa.

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

Katie Colaneri/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

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

When a Chevron natural gas well exploded in Greene County, killing a worker, the company blocked personnel with the state Department of Environmental Protection from accessing the site for nearly two days. The DEP acquiesced, despite its regulatory authority. Now, that issue is one of nine violations the DEP outlined in a letter to Chevron last month.

The fire started early on Feb. 11 and continued to burn for five days. When a DEP emergency crew first arrived on the scene in Dunkard Township, Chevron told them to stay away from the site and not to drive their vehicle on the access road. The crew was also blocked from parking an emergency vehicle at a nearby command center.

“They were not allowing anybody close to that well pad and I think that our feeling though was, as a regulatory agency, we want to be there, we want to see it, we want to know what Chevron is saying,” DEP spokesman John Poister said.

Drilling companies are always required to grant access to DEP officials, regardless of the circumstances, according to their state-issued permits.

When asked why the agency did not enforce its right to access the site, Poister told StateImpact Pennsylvania the agency did “strongly” express its concerns to Chevron and that the relationship between the company and the DEP improved over time.

“When the secretary arrived the day after, we were given much more access,” Poister said.

Secretary Chris Abruzzo told reporters two days after the fire started that he had been able to see the charred well pad from about 500 yards away and could see methane gas “shooting out” of the wellhead.

In its notice of violation letter, the DEP cited Chevron for “hazardous venting of gas,” “open burning,” and “discharge of production fluids onto the ground.” However, Poister stressed that Chevron’s most serious violation was not blocking state regulators, but an equipment failure on the wellhead that is believed to have caused the explosion that took the life of 27-year-old Ian McKee, a contractor on the site. 

“That’s what we want to get to the bottom of,” Poister said.

Scott Perry, DEP’s deputy secretary for oil and gas, told StateImpact Pennsylvania that the department’s initial lack of direct access to the site would not impact its investigation. 

“It did impede our ability to monitor the conditions at the site which was one of our concerns, whether or not the conditions could change and pose a threat to public safety,” Perry said.

The DEP is preparing a more detailed after-action report about the incident. The department is planning to meet with Chevron to discuss the violations, which could result in fines.

Lawmakers have praised DEP for a “textbook” response to the fire. However, Chevron has sustained widespread criticism for its response, especially for giving out coupons for free pizza as an apology to nearby residents.

In a statement, Chevron said “the safety of the emergency responders was of paramount concern to Chevron and the participants of the [Unified Incident Command Center] throughout the course of the incident.”

“We will continue to cooperate with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and all appropriate regulatory authorities throughout the investigation and thereafter.”

Chevron said it plans to share the results of its own internal investigation.

You can read DEP’s notice of violation to Chevron below.


  • BobSchmetzer

    The PaDEP has policing powers under the state law. Why then did they take a passive stance? Data was lost for the 2 days they retreated. Was that political pressure? Having Chevron investigate themselves , and PaDEP not having details to independent information and facts, constitutes a bias conclusion. Maybe factual, but always leaving out the part of neglect. I’m sure their lawyers will clean the report up. This will leave the industry , state, and general public without information for prevention of future safety measures. This has to be addressed.

    • paulroden

      When the Governor takes $1.4 million of campaign contributions and no DEP inspector can do anything without his offices permission, even it is an emergency response crew, what do you expect? The DEP can’t do it’s job even if it wanted to because the gas industry controls the government and the agency that is supposed to monitor and enforce the law and regulations. DEP = “Don’t Expect Protection.”

    • NorthernTier

      What the DEP (and PEMA?) should have done was get an emergency court order for access to the site to conduct monitoring activity. Perhaps they don’t have this capability, but now the expectation is that if an operator says “No”, the DEP will acquiesce.

  • DeanMarshall

    Perry , Poister, Connoly. Spadoni…all have lied and stretched and twisted the truth to please their Boss, Tom Corrupt Corbett!

  • me

    The tail that wags the dog.

    • Fracked

      and that dog don’t hunt!

  • Fracked

    All I can say is that DEP continues to raise the speed limit for this careening out of control industry. Is there any question on whether this company should be shut down and seriously fined? Any guesses where these top DEP officials will “park” after Corbett goes out? Over and over the gas companies have grossly violated our trust and yet they continue…

    • jamefs siefd

      Ask the Ecuadorians who Texaco (now owned by Chevron) made miserable. They experience extreme health problems such as cancer from a large number of oil spills, and later won a $9.5 bn judgement against Chevron. Chevron refused to pay, and still refuses to. Even if we sue them, they’ll just pay off some official, and this will disappear.

  • paulroden

    Here is yet another example of why the practice of fracking for the extracting of fossil fuel needs to be outlawed once and for all. How many more people need to die before fracking is stopped? How many aquifers, watersheds, streams, lakes, ponds and rivers need to be contaminated from accidents, fires, explosions, leaks, spills and illegal dumping of fracking waste before the people rise up and demand a ban? You can’t drink money! Fracking is too dangerous, too expensive and totally unnecessary for our energy needs.

    • FrackmanGasser

      Actually this accident has nothing to do with hydraulic fracturing at all. The well had been completed for some time, and by all reports, this crew was hired to connect the wellhead to a gathering line. Illegal dumping is a problem that is not unique to the gas industry, so that’s not a reason to ban drilling; it is something that needs to be prosecuted regardless of source.

      • VAppalachia1

        Seriously? People use the term “fracking” broadly describe the entire life-cycle process of industrial shale gas development. When you understand it that way, as do most people who are not trying to defend fracking, it is dangerous, inappropriately regulated, inadequately inspected and should stop until it can be determined safe. And it IS dangerous. USGS has determined that fracking (i.e. hydraulic fracturing in shale) causes earthquakes.

    • Richard

      And how do you think the middle east gets the oil and then sells it to us? You should educate yourself on the process of fracing. Unless the aquifer is 6 miles deep.. We dont get anywhere near them. I bet you drive a gas car dont you. Until you are ready to drive a leaf, dont bite the hands that feed you

      • paulroden

        I have educated myself on fracking. If fracking is so safe, why are they exempt from the provisions of the Clean Water, Clean Air, Safe Drinking Water and the Resource Conservation Reclamation Acts? Why are the components of the fracking fluids considered “proprietary ” if they are so safe?” Why has the industry blocked studies on the environmental and public health impact of the chemicals and radon released by fracking? Why are oil and gas companies still getting tax subsidies for extracting oil and gas? Why are they blocking the develop of renewable energy where ever they can through their partners in the electric power companies by throwing up taxes, regulations and removing any tax incentives or funding for research and development? Fracking is too dangerous, too expensive and totally unnecessary for our energy needs.

        Drilling Down Series of the New York Times: The
        Solutions Project:

  • Julieann Wozniak

    They invade our community and think they’re above the law. Bobtown has put up with this sort of crap from coal barons since the 1910s. We’re sick of it, thank you very much. PADEP needs to grow a pair and start, you know, protecting us, instead of kissing the imperial ring. This is not okay to the vast majority of us Bobtowners, who merely want our feeling of safety back. My mom was born here in 1926; coal pollution killed her by inches.

    • Maggie Henry

      And fracking will take the rest of us! Now DEP is in cahots with Hilcorp trying to force pool people in Pa.

  • Watername

    If a corporation is now a “person” – according to the United States Supreme Court, then that “person” has committed a murder and held authorities at bay. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has shown itself to be useless as not only protectors of the Environment but also as protectors of the real human beings living in the area.

    • jamefs siefd

      Corporations are only people when they want to be. When it comes to stuff like jail time and campaign contributions, then they are not.

      • Watername

        I wonder if the “personhood” of any corporation has been tested in court? If a corporation is a person – allowed to control the politics and environment of the United States of America, then where does the responsibility of a corporation as a person begin and end? Who is going to step up and sue Chevron for corporate murder or resisting regulatory authority to test those limits?

    • paulroden

      That is why I call the DEP the “Don’t Expect Protection” department, the DCNR, which is supposed to oversee the disbursement of royalty fees, drilling in state parks, forests and game lands the “Department of Consumable Natural Resources” and the Department of Health as the “Don’t Offer Help” because they can’t respond to any queries about public health on fracking or complaints. They are gagged from talking about fracking to the public. The gas industry money has totally corrupted the public health and environmental protection of these agencies.

  • dubedit

    OMG,Paulroden. One man died. In our neck of the woods, a logger died when a tree trunk crushed him. Should we outlaw the harvesting of timber? Tell me ONE aquifer, watershed, stream, lake or river that has been contaminated so badly by fracking that it cannot be used. Fracking IS dangerous. We control the danger, and live with it. It is expensive — but less so than freezing to death in the dark in winter, or fighting a war with Russia for gas to keep Europe from freezing. It is unnecessary right today — but will help to reduce our dependence on the Islamofanatics who control Saudi Arabia and Iran.

    • jamefs siefd

      The problem is that this death could have been prevented, and that Chevron blocked access to DEP officials – which is illegal, regardless of the circumstance.

    • Watername

      From the “Halliburton Loophole” created by Dick cheney and the oil and gas companies….the Loophole that excludes the oil and gas companies from regulations and protections of hard-won environmental laws like the “Safe Drinking Water Act” and the “Clean Air Act” (major laws used by State DEPs and Federal EPA) as well as these laws calling into play essential regulations for the protection of American soil, water, human health and the health of flora and fauna, there have been few lawsuits won by the many Families, businesses aquifers, private, county, state and federal watersheds, streams, lakes and rivers contaminated by the many hazardous chemicals and gases used in the process of fracking. Lack of the usual protective environmental laws means lack of evidence admissible in a court of law.. The result: lack of permissible cases of injury caused by fracking. SO WE DO NOT CONTROL THE DANGER….THE GAS AND OIL COMPANIES CONTROL THE LAWS THAT WOULD PROTECT US FROM THE DANGER AND LEAVE OUR ENVIRONMENTAL AND HEALTH REGULATORY AGENCIES AS WELL AS AMERICAN CITIZENS HELPLESS IN THE FACE OF LEGALLY FINDING AND BY PROOF PUTTING AN END TO DANGER. Sincerely, Henny Wise

  • jamefs siefd

    Wow, Chevron. Now you’re engaging in corruption on American soil.

  • Fracked

    was Wild Well Control denied access from the site or just DEP?

    • Katie Colaneri

      Wild Well Control was contracted by Chevron and did not arrive from Texas until that afternoon (on Feb. 11, 2014).

    • Iloveusaoil

      Wild well knows what they’re doing. They’re insure to fix the problem, not cause more problems. DEP is the lawyers chasing the ambulance here. Please, if you don’t REALLY know what and how frac works, quiet down. Enjoy the fruits of an oilmans labor and the product we supply. Which is damn near everything you see, touch, and use daily.

      • Fracked

        dear love oil, I am quite experienced in living in a shalefield-been underproduction here since 2008…we have experienced all the joys!

  • Lisa DeSantis

    The DEP officials should thank Chevron, for the checks they are about to write.

  • Hansen Harlley

    Agreed. But despite this fact, I have read analysts reviews that rate this
    stock as a buy and expect share price to appreciate around 11% in the coming 12
    months. Don’t know what facts they are considering.

  • anitacoleman1813

    Chevron missed revenue and earnings estimates previous quarter.

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