Chevron halted drilling on all of its Pennsylvania gas wells following explosion

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Chevron has shut down gas wells in Pennsylvania that it was still drilling or working to put into production following the deadly explosion and fire on a well pad last week in Greene County, a state environmental official said today.

Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection deputy secretary, said work on seven well pads with wells that have been fracked and are awaiting production, or have not yet been fracked, has been suspended since the Feb. 11 blast in Dunkard.

Fracking is a part of the drilling process that involves shooting millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals into the well hole to fracture the shale and allow the gas to escape.

Mr. Perry said the DEP asked Chevron to shut down the wells, but the company had already done so, last week. State environmental inspectors are visiting the sites, and Chevron is inspecting all of its wells statewide, he said.

The wells in Dunkard continued to leak today, Mr. Perry said, but that presents no danger to the community or environment. Crews don't expect to cap the two well heads until the middle of next week.

"Obviously, the most critical thing is that this be done safely," he said.

It's still unclear what caused the explosion that killed one contractor and injured another, sparking a fire that burned out of control for five days. Officials will focus their investigation on a bolt -- used to support production tubing that workers were going to run into the well -- that appears to have been ejected from the well head.

"It's a rare event, obviously, but we need to make sure it cannot reoccur," Mr. Perry said.

State police investigators on Wednesday recovered the remains of who they believe to be Ian McKee, 27, a field service technician for Cameron International who was working on the site. Mr. McKee was originally from Warren, but lived in Morgantown, W.Va.

Just before the blast, workers on site said they heard a noise coming from the well, and at least two people -- Mr. McKee and another Cameron contractor -- "approached the well when it lost its integrity," Mr. Perry said.

Molly Born: or 412-263-1944. Sean D. Hamill: or 412-263-2579.

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