Indiana Twp. gas well capped after explosion killed 2

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Two workers were killed today when a natural gas well exploded in Indiana Township.

The well had been burning for hours and was eventually capped around 7:45 p.m.

Workers from Wild Well Control in Houston, Texas, arrived on the scene and spent 12 hours capping the well. They first pumped water into the well and into surrounding formations.

Workers had been welding equipment at the gas well site when the explosion was reported around 9:50 a.m. in a wooded area of the township off Rich Hill Road, the state Department of Environmental Protection reported.

The two men were part of a three-member crew at the site. No other injuries were reported.

The incident was first reported by a second crew working at another well in the area. The blast was so powerful it lifted an oil storage tank 12 feet by 8 feet and threw it 70 yards away. The tank is not leaking but firefighters are pouring water on it to keep it cool.

At a news conference late this afternoon, Allegheny County Emergency Management Chief Robert Full said officials and the well owner, Huntley & Huntley, agreed to let the well fire burn at this time. Huntley & Huntley has hired a Texas firm, Wild Well, to cap the well.

About 200 emergency responders remained on the scene. Three firefighters have been treated at UPMC St. Margaret for heat-related problems.

Chief Full said the two dead men worked for Huntley & Huntley but their names have not been released.

"The best thing about the fire is that it controls the gas flow," said Chief Full, reducing the possibility of another explosion from an accumulation of escaping fumes.

Emergency crews had tried to use foam to put out the blaze, but when that failed they began sending tanker trucks to the site.

A Huntley & Huntley spokeswoman said workers were doing routine maintenance on the well but she didn't know what caused the explosion.

Township manager Dan Anderson said he's concerned about the growth of wells on private property in recent years, noting the township has a couple dozen at this time. Township officials "don't have any control" over drilling, he said.

It's especially troubling if experts have to be brought in from out of state to respond to an emergency, he said.

DEP spokeswoman Helen Humphreys said the well is two years old and is a shallow well, drilled about 3,500 feet.

Huntley & Huntley Inc. is a privately owned developer of gas based in Monroeville. It has more than 350 gas wells in the greater Pittsburgh area, especially in eastern Allegheny and western Westmoreland County.

Founded in 1912, the company started out as a geologic and engineering consultant but in 1995 began developing its own oil and gas reserves.

More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


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