Fire Still Burning, Worker Still Missing

gas well explosionWhile most of the East Coast is hunkering down against an icy deluge, a small town near Pittsburgh is dealing with an element of an entirely different kind.

On Tuesday a Marcellus Shale gas well that belongs to the Chevron Company caught fire in Dunkard, Greene County, PA. Of the 20 employees at the site, one employee sustained a minor injury and another is still missing.

The fire continues to burn, which still poses a threat to workers or aids on the jobsite who are there trying to contain the flames. The circumstances surrounding the fire are still unknown because crews have not gotten close enough to the scene to properly investigate. Neighbors reported hearing a very loud explosion and a hissing sound that could be heard for some time after.

First responders to the scene could not even get to work on fighting the fire because the heat produced from the blaze was so intense. Police are relaying the message that it could take up to a few days to get it under control. A tanker truck full of propane that was on the scene has exploded and more damage could still result from the heat and the fire.

Chevron asked Wild Well Control to try and help with the fire but a spokesperson from that organization said they will probably let the fire burn for a while before attempting to push back. Wild Well is a well response company that is based in Houston, so the team had to be flown in. But if that’s what it takes to safely handle this situation then I applaud Chevron for making sure that no further damage is done. Still, this means that investigators and responders will not be able to get to the worksite for a few days and the fire could erase any evidence that may have contributed to the cause of the explosion.

A representative from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said they initially speculated that the accident was drilling-related, but discovered that the well had been drilled in March 2012. It had yet to produce any gas. The crews that were working Tuesday, when the explosion took place, were there to put in pipe connecting that well to a gas-gathering system. This is the last thing that happens before the well can be put to use.

This site contains three wells in total, and Chevron has not received any prior violations for drilling related to this particular site.

The explosion took place Tuesday morning at 6:45 and by 8:48 the status of 19 workers was known, says Greene County Representative Pam Snyder. One still remains missing. The police were able to secure a half-mile perimeter around the site which was free of schools or houses. The fire seems to be limited to the site of the well which is good news for residents in the surrounding area.

It is troubling that one worker is still missing and we can only hope that they are okay. Though this line of work is very dangerous this is a region that relies on the industry as a huge boost to their economy. Hopefully we will get answers soon and understand what happened that could have caused such a serious fire in order to prevent such tragedies in the future.

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