Team faces hazards in battling Greene County gas well fires


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A fire that has raged at two gas wells in Dunkard, Greene County, since Tuesday morning could be capped sometime this weekend, a state spokesman said Friday.

Chevron, which owns the Marcellus Shale natural gas wells, said its well fire specialist, Wild Well Control, had made good progress on clearing the well pad of debris and bringing in equipment in anticipation of attempting to stop the fire. Workers still had not accounted for one employee of contractor Cameron Surface Systems who was working on the site when the wells caught fire. Eighteen other employees escaped, with one suffering minor injuries.

One change in the way one of the two wells has been flaring has helped the operation.

That well had been flaring periodically, making it dangerous for crews trying to pull trucks, tanks and other metal that can heat up away from the well pad, said John Poister, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

But late Thursday, the well began flaring continuously, he said.

"We're kind of taking that as a positive because it's burning off gas that might otherwise gather on the well pad and ignite in an explosion," he said. "We think that will make it an easier job for Wild Well Control to clear the well pad."

Wild Well Control experts were flown in from Houston hours after the fires erupted.

In its most detailed statement of the week, Chevron said Friday afternoon the hazards on the well pad remained significant.

While one well head is burning steadily, "an adjacent well on the pad is burning intermittently," the company said. "This second well sustained damage from the heat of the fire from the initial well. We continue to monitor the condition and integrity of the remaining well on-site, and a contingency plan is in place should conditions change."

The company also said that as of 5 p.m. Friday, the last piece of debris to be removed was a badly burned crane near the well heads.

"This crane is maintaining extreme temperatures and is the ignition source that continues to reignite the natural gas flowing from the initial well," Chevron said. Once removed it "will allow Wild Well Control to get close enough to the well to perform its operations," the company said. Chevron said tanks on a pad nearby would be used to hold water to fight the fires. It did not explain how it would attempt to stop the flow of natural gas, though.

Mr. Poister said Chevron has made an emergency request for a state permit to draw nearby pond water.

"Activity at this point has been focused on ensuring that Wild Well Control has the space, resources, conditions and equipment on-site and in place to safely begin its operations to gain control of the well and stop the flow of natural gas," Chevron said.


Sean D. Hamill: shamill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2579 First Published February 14, 2014 12:19 PM

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