DEP: Lack of Oversight, Human Error Caused Deadly Greene County Well Fire

Pennsylvania investigators have faulted site managers in a report on a Chevron natural gas well fire in Dunkard Township, Greene County that killed a worker in February.

The Department of Environmental Protection's after-action report released Wednesday said a contract worker without oil field experience working on the Lanco A Pad failed to tighten a bolt/lock-nut assembly properly. Another employee who was supposed to supervise the worker was not in the line of sight of the bolt being tightened. The loosened nut/bolt allowed gas to escape' which was then ignited, causing the fire.

DEP spokesman John Poister said the fire burned on and off for five days, and the communication and access to the site was hampered by Chevron Appalachia LLC.

“There was a perimeter that was set up around the well pad by state police and Chevron felt that meant that nobody could get beyond that,” Poister said. “But Chevron’s people did go beyond that and would not permit our people to get there.”

The blast killed 27-year-old Ian McKee, a field service technician for Houston-based Cameron International. Poister said McKee was one of two workers to investigate a hissing noise coming from the well-pad when the ignition occurred.

McKee's family has filed a lawsuit against Chevron. His parents' lawyer says they are filing suit in order to make a legal claim for information about the circumstances of their son’s death. McKee left behind a pregnant fiancee.

The DEP has issued nine violations against Chevron for the incident, including “hazardous venting of gas,” “open burning” and “discharge of production fluids onto the ground.” The company was also charged with blocking access to DEP officials for nearly two days after the fire broke out.

Poister said they’ve already drafted a formal operating procedure for responding to these types of incidents. Now they’ll finalize it and begin to train staff.

“We’re also going to take these reports, along with the notice of violation," he said, "and we’re going to sit down with Chevron and talk about what they’re going to do and what we’ve discussed in our reports where we feel they fell short in their oversight of this well pad."