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1 missing, 1 hurt in natural gas well explosion in Greene County

| Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, 9:09 a.m.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
A natural gas well burns out of control after an accident at a drill pad in Dunkard in Greene County on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
A natural gas well burns out of control after an accident at a drill pad in Dunkard in Greene County on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014.
WPXI
A natural gas well burns out of control after an accident at a drill pad in Dunkard in Greene County on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
A natural gas well burned out of control after an accident in Dunkard near the Greene County village of Bobtown. A Chevron spokesman on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014 said the company could not even speculate on how long it might take to put the fire out.

DUNKARD — The thunder of a natural gas well explosion on Tuesday morning in rural Greene County shook Charlie Grim awake, yanked John Kuis away from the television and rattled Michelle Hurley's home as she dressed for work.

“It sounded like a jet engine was parked in my driveway,” said Kuis, 57, who scrambled outside to see fire and smoke rising above the tree line near his Dilliner home, about 70 miles south of Pittsburgh.

The fire at the Chevron Corp. well in neighboring Dunkard raged into the night, shooting flames several stories into the air and preventing authorities from getting closer than 300 yards because of the blistering heat. One worker suffered minor injuries and another remained missing, company officials said.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of these individuals,” Chevron spokeswoman Lee Ann Wainright said.

Chevron flew in a disaster team from Houston to put out the well fire, reported about 6:45 a.m. at the Lanco 7H well. Wild Well Control Inc., which specializes in controlling fires and other problems at drilling sites, has been here before — it tamed a fire from a July 2010 well explosion in Indiana Township that killed two welders.

Shortly after 6 p.m., Wild Well Control specialists were working with Chevron officials to develop a plan to extinguish the fire, the company said. Chevron did not say how long it might take to put out the fire.

State police established a half-mile perimeter around the well as a precaution. People stopped throughout the day to gawk at the flames and smoke.

Grim, 25, and several friends who work in the natural gas industry drove from their homes in a nearby valley to get a better look at the cordoned-off area from Steel Hill Road. None of them knew anybody who worked at the site.

“I figure they were all out-of-towners,” Grim said. “A lot of them are.”

Grim said the accident didn't give him second thoughts about working in the industry.

“To me, it's part of the industry,” Grim said. “And it's either this or coal around here. We don't have much else.”

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, who chairs a subcommittee on employment and workplace safety, called for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to investigate.

State Department of Environmental Protection spokesman John Poister said a team at the site found no signs of threats to public health, noting the fire burned off volatile organic compounds in the gas.

Officials said 19 workers were at the site when the explosion happened. The DEP said it didn't know what triggered it.

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

Drilling companies have to be wary of natural gas buildup creating an ignition source, said Michael W. Brinkmeyer, a vice president at Colorado-based Stonehenge Energy Resources LP, which has run pipeline and processing systems in the Marcellus shale.

“If you're doing final connections, you're probably doing hot work, which means welding or some other process like that, so you want to make sure you don't have any gas leaks,” Brinkmeyer said.

No drilling or hydraulic fracturing was occurring. Chevron drilled the well two years ago and fracked it a year ago.

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 north central Greene County.

Chevron's local subsidiary, Chevron Appalachia LLC, obtained 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.

Jason Cato, Tom Fontaine and Timothy Puko are Trib Total Media staff writers. Cato can be reached at 412-320-7936 or jcato@tribweb.com. Fontaine can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com. Puko can be reached at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

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