Gas Well Blast Leaves One Pa. Worker Hurt, One Missing

Oil and gas giant Chevron Corp. is flying a disaster team to Western Pennsylvania to tame a fire raging at a well that exploded Tuesday morning in Greene County, injuring one worker and leaving another missing.

Chevron spokesman Trip Oliver said the fire was reported at about 6:45 a.m. at the Lanco 7H well in Dunkard, about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh. Oliver said one person is hospitalized and another is unaccounted for.

“Chevron's primary concern at this point is to contain the fire and ensure the safety of its employees, contractors and the surrounding community,” Oliver said.

Firefighters and other emergency personnel have been unable to go near the burning well since the explosion, because of its size and heat, officials said. State police set up a half-mile perimeter around the well as a precaution. From that distance, the burning well sounded like a jet engine.

“It's unique in that it's not a flare going up, not a finger of flame going up from a gas well,” said state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman John Poister.

Officials said 20 to 30 workers were at the site when the explosion happened. As of late Tuesday afternoon, the DEP didn't know what triggered it.

Workers had been connecting the well to a network of pipes to carry away gas from the site. It is one of the final steps before starting production, Poister said.

No drilling or hydraulic fracturing was happening at the time of the blast. Chevron drilled the well two years ago and fracked it a year ago.

Chevron hired Wild Well Control Inc. of Houston to put out the fire. The company specializes in controlling fires and other problems at drilling sites.

Wild Well Control had not arrived as of 3 p.m., when state regulators expected them, Poister said.

DEP had two workers at the site and planned to send a third.

Michelle Hurley, a township secretary who lives about a half-mile from the drilling site, said she heard a boom as she was getting ready for work.

“I thought it was snow and ice coming off the roof,” Hurley said.

Hurley said township workers tried to truck road salt and ash to the scene after hearing reports that emergency vehicles struggled to access the drilling site, located off a dirt access road about a mile from Water Tank Road. Hurley couldn't recall any previous problems at drilling sites in the township.

Greene County has the sixth-most natural gas wells among Pennsylvania counties, with 641, according to DEP data.

Large pockets of liquid gases such as ethane and propane have become profitable draws for companies such as EQT Corp. and Consol Energy Inc. in northcentral Greene County.

Chevron's local subsidiary, Chevron Appalachia LLC, has gotten 40 state permits for shale drilling in Greene County since 2009, including one for the Lanco 7H well. Most of its wells are on the eastern edge of the county.

Chevron's two Lanco well pads in Dunkard are in the county's southeast corner.

Chevron has two other wells on the same pad as Lanco 7H. They were drilled on March 15-16, 2012, but haven't produced anything since then, state records show. That is not uncommon.

Many times companies will drill a well that shows up in state records, only to come back and use hydraulic fracturing to complete the job and start production, Poister said.

Trib Total Media staff writer Jason Cato contributed.