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Chevron settles fatal shale well fire lawsuit, state claims for nearly $6M

| Thursday, May 28, 2015, 11:39 a.m.

Energy giant Chevron Corp. agreed to pay $5 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a contract worker killed last year when fire engulfed a Greene County shale gas well and more than $900,000 to settle citations from state regulators.

An Allegheny County judge this month approved the settlement of the lawsuit brought by the family of Ian McKee, 27, of Warren, according to court documents filed this week.

The majority of about $3.25 million earmarked for the family after legal fees will go into a trust for McKee's son, who was born after McKee died in February 2014, court documents state.

In a statement, San Ramon, Calif.-based Chevron said the settlement “enables all parties to move forward.”

“Our thoughts and prayers remain with the family of Ian McKee,” said the world's ninth largest energy company. It has 278 active shale wells in Pennsylvania, where it's the No. 9 producer by volume.

“Protecting people and the environment is a core value for Chevron, and we are determined to prevent an incident like this from happening again.”

A separate settlement with the state Department of Environmental Protection was signed May 21, according to documents posted on that agency's website. Chevron agreed to pay a civil penalty of about $939,500 to settle 10 violations of the Oil and Gas Act and other state laws.

“We cooperated fully with the DEP during the course of its investigation and accept the DEP's consent assessment of civil penalty,” Chevron said.

Regulators blamed an unnamed, inexperienced worker at Chevron's site in Dunkard for loosening a bolt without proper supervision that likely caused the well to leak and catch fire.

The fire killed McKee, a field service technician for Cameron International Corp., as he and another worker ran to the wellhead in response to a hissing sound.

The DEP in an investigative report last year criticized Chevron for a lack of oversight on the Lanco well pad before the incident, and poor communication with state officials in the hours and days afterward. The department said Chevron blocked regulators from accessing the fire scene for more than a day after the fire, which violates its permits.

The agreement to settle the DEP claims cites Chevron for failing to prevent the fire, for allowing gas and liquids to leak from the well afterward and for causing a public nuisance.

The Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration decided in August that it would issue no citations and concluded that the cause of the fire could not be determined.

David Conti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5802 or dconti@tribweb.com.

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