Charred crane to be pulled from Greene County gas well site

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Well-fire control experts today will attempt to remove a charred crane near a well that burned out of control for five days last week in Dunkard, Greene County, the last step before they begin capping two wells, state and Chevron officials said.

"Barring some really unforeseen circumstance, we should be able to get the wells capped by this weekend," said Scott Perry, deputy secretary for the Department of Environmental Protection in charge of the state's oil and gas management. Mr. Perry has been on the well site every day since Saturday because of the severity of the incident.

Removing the crane may also allow investigators a chance to get the best view yet of an area where they believe they may find the body of a contractor who was working on the well Feb. 11 when it exploded into roaring flames.

The contractor, who was reported missing immediately after the fire, was identified Tuesday by his family as Ian McKee, 27, originally of Warren. His identify was first reported by The Times Observer of Warren County after it covered a vigil family and friends organized for Mr. McKee. A friend told the paper he was most recently living in Morgantown, W.Va.

Mr. McKee and 19 co-workers -- who were preparing to put in piping to bring the well into production -- were attending a safety meeting, standing near the wells at 6:45 a.m. on Feb. 11, when something apparently went wrong with the well and it exploded. A second employee suffered minor injuries.

Investigators have focused their search for Mr. McKee on the crane. What is left of the crane sits about 25 or 30 feet from the two wells.

Chevron, which owns the gas wells, absorbed a heavy dose of criticism Tuesday for handing out coupons to local residents for a free pizza and 2-liter bottle of pop from Bobtown Pizza.

Anti-fracking websites, like No Fracking Way, mocked Chevron with headlines like: "The Chevron Promise: If our fracking well explodes, the pizza is on us!"

Chevron spokesman Trip Oliver said the company gave residents in about 30 homes the gift certificates as a "token of appreciation" because of the inconveniences they've endured -- and to support the local restaurant, which provided food for first-responders and workers on the well site.

"Our operation response has included a lot of construction activity which has resulted in increased traffic and congestion in the area," he said. "We wanted to extend our appreciation to the people around the well site."

Molly Born: Sean D. Hamill: First Published February 18, 2014 11:11 PM

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