Water supply crucial to efforts at damaged Greene County gas well

DUNKARD, Pa. -- Ensuring that enough water is available and ready to use is the only step keeping well-control experts from accessing a well pad in Greene County that burned out of control for five days last week and continues to shoot natural gas into the air, Chevron officials said Monday.

At a news conference Monday in Morgantown, W.Va., the officials also said they are continuing the search for a missing worker who is feared dead. The male employee, whose identity has not been released, was working for Cameron International, a contractor to Chevron, when the well exploded at 6:45 a.m. last Tuesday. Another employee suffered minor injuries and was treated and released from a local hospital last week.

"This is an extremely difficult time for our Chevron family and those who work for Cameron Surface Systems," Chevron spokesman Trip Oliver said. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to [the missing employee's] family and friends."

Chevron referred all questions about the missing employee to the state police, who said there is nothing new to report on the search.

John Sanclemente, Chevron's regional drilling and completions manager, said the explosion and blowout of natural gas and possible death of a contractor is "undoubtedly" the worst well site accident Chevron has experienced in its more than three years of operating in the Marcellus Shale basin.

Mr. Oliver said if the missing employee is confirmed to have died in the explosion, it would be the first Marcellus operations-related fatality for Chevron.

"We've had injuries at other sites, but nothing of this nature" with a possible death, Mr. Oliver said.

The search for the missing employee on the well pad will be aided by the completion of the water management system being set up near the well pad by well-control experts with Wild Well Control that Chevron flew in from Houston.

Crews are still filling 15, 21,000-gallon water tanks that will be needed for a suppression system that will protect Wild Well employees who first must remove a badly burned crane that is 25 or 30 feet from the two wells that have leaked.

The tanks were still being filled with water from nearby Dunkard Creek under an emergency state permit that will allow Chevron to take more than 1 million gallons of water from the creek for the operation.

After the tanks are filled, the system has to be tested before Wild Well Control will consider getting closer to the well pad and removing the crane, Mr. Sanclemente said.

After that, Wild Well employees will move carefully to the well head to assess how to shut down the leaking well. Employees got as close as possible Sunday, but a closer examination is still necessary to determine exactly how the well will be capped, he said.

"Within 48 hours, we want to be in position to assess entry to the site and start a well intervention process," Mr. Sanclemente said.

Until the water system is tested and ready to go, no one will get closer than 300 feet from the well head, he said, because it's still too dangerous.

Even though the two well heads stopped burning Saturday, one of the main purposes of the water system is not only to be able to fight any fire that might break out but also to provide a constant spray onto the well heads to help prevent the natural gas that is still leaking from building up on the site and igniting.

The steady flow of water onto the well head "will help minimize any potential re-ignition," Mr. Sanclemente said.

Sean D. Hamill: shamill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2579. First Published February 17, 2014 6:20 PM

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