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Chevron Faces Violations for Refusing DEP Access to Site of PA Well Fire, Other Failures

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has sent Chevron Appalachia LLC notice of nine violations stemming from an explosion and fire at a well site in Greene County, PA, that left one worker dead and another injured in February (see Shale Daily, Feb. 11).

Among the violations is the DEP's allegation that Chevron refused unrestricted access to properly identified agency personnel at the well site in Dunkard Township, about 70 miles south of Pittsburgh, on Feb. 11, the day an explosion triggered fires at two wells there.

"We were not where we wanted to be. The permit required [Chevron] to allow us free and unrestricted access," DEP spokesman John Poister told NGI's Shale Daily. "We did eventually get that access, but it was restricted at first."

Poister said the DEP protested and only after agency secretary Chris Abruzzo arrived on site on Feb. 12 to tell Chevron that the agency needed complete access to fulfill its regulatory function and provide expertise, were personnel granted full access.

"It was the secretary's actions that got us more access," Poister said. "Ultimately, we did get what we needed, but nonetheless, that's a violation."

Alan Eichler, the DEP's southwest oil and gas program manager, sent the notice of violation to Chevron last month. The violations were set in motion as part of an ongoing agency investigation into what caused the explosion.

Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson acknowledged that the company had received the notice and added that it was evaluating the alleged violations as part of its own investigation of the incident.

“During our response to this incident, Chevron’s first priority was to ensure the safety of all responders and prevent additional injuries,” Robertson told NGI’s Shale Daily. “For that reason, access to the [well] site during the initial stages of the incident was restricted.”

Poister said the DEP wanted to be closer to the well pad and the joint command center on the day of the explosion. It took a day and a half, he said, to get that access and fully participate in command briefings at the site. Until it was unrestricted, the DEP was forced to walk down an access road and merely listen in on those briefings, which included limited personnel from Houston-based Wild Well Control, first responders, Chevron officials and others.

At Chevron’s request, the Pennsylvania State Police established an access control point near the pad. “No one, including Chevron personnel, was permitted access to the pad on the day of the incident until experts from Wild Well Control arrived on the scene and were able to assess the situation,” Robertson said.

The explosion triggered fires at the Lanco 6H and Lanco 7H wells until they extinguished themselves on Feb. 15 (see Shale Daily, Feb. 18; Feb. 14; Feb. 13; Feb. 12). It wasn't until Feb. 25 that both wells were capped by Wild Well Control. In its notice of violation, the DEP said gas was emitted uncontrollably into the air and production fluids discharged into the air and onto the well pad until the capping.

Among some of the other violations included in the DEP's notice were a failure to effectively prevent an explosion; failure to prevent waste of gas due to inadequate blowout equipment; failure to contain fugitive air emissions and the modification or operation of an air contamination source without department approval.

The agency also said that for each day such violations occurred the company could face separate penalties for each. It added that Chevron could be liable for the DEP's response costs and associated activities.

Poister said the agency will meet with Chevron soon for more discussions regarding the investigation and violations. The DEP, he said, will likely present a consent order for Chevron to sign that will carry with it civil penalties and fines.

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