DEP issues Chevron nine citations in fatal gas well blast

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For two days after a Marcellus Shale natural gas well exploded in flames in Greene County, the well owner, Chevron Corp., refused to allow state investigators onto the property, in violation of oil and gas laws, the state said Thursday.

That conflict, along with other problems that resulted from the fire that began Feb. 11 in Dunkard, led the state Department of Environmental Protection to issue Chevron nine citations for the incident that resulted in one contractor's death.

"Here's what really peeves us," DEP spokesman John Poister said Thursday. "Our emergency response team were down there to do a job. And the permit [for the well] clearly says they should allow 'free and unrestricted access' to a properly identified DEP employee, and they didn't do that."

Although Chevron was strongly reminded of that condition, the state did not force its way onto the property or ask the Pennsylvania State Police to intervene, Mr. Poister said, because "we decided not to make it a pitched battle and instead focused on getting the well capped and making the scene safe."

DEP investigators and a DEP emergency vehicle were kept farther back on the property while Chevron employees and contractors were staged closer to the well site. A closer position would have allowed more accurate air sampling to determine the impact of the well fire, Mr. Poister said.

"Chevron was taking air samples [those first two days], but we wanted and should be able to take our own," he said.

Chevron did not relent until the second day after DEP Secretary Chris Abruzzo visited the site himself and reminded the company of its obligations, Mr. Poister said.

Chevron said in a statement that it is still evaluating the notice of violations it received last month.

But it added in explanation for the violation for not allowing access to the site to DEP: "During our response to this incident, Chevron’s first priority was to ensure the safety of all responders and prevent additional injuries. For that reason, access to the Lanco site during the initial stages of the incident was restricted. At Chevron’s request, the Pennsylvania State Police established an access control point near the pad. No one, including Chevron personnel, was permitted access to the pad on the day of the incident, until experts from Wild Well Control arrived on the scene and were able to assess the situation. "

He said the state wants other companies to know that DEP does not intend to allow such a situation to occur again.

In addition to the violation for not allowing access, the state cited Chevron for seven violations for failure to operate a well properly and failure to prevent venting of gas, and a violation for a discharge of well production fluids onto the ground.

The issue of the violations is a prelude to negotiating a fine in the case, which may be accompanied by conditions for work at the well site and/or other Chevron well sites.

Mr. Poister said DEP has yet to meet with Chevron to discuss the citations, which were issued March 18, but a meeting will be set for sometime in the next 10 days.

Sean D. Hamill: or 412-263-2579.

Sean D. Hamill: or 412-263-2579 First Published April 10, 2014 2:52 PM

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