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Family Sues Chevron Subsidiary For Worker’s Death at PA Well Fire

The family of a subcontractor killed by an explosion at a well pad operated by Chevron Appalachia LLC in southwest Pennsylvania in February (see Shale Daily, Feb. 11) filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company last month in Allegheny County court in Pittsburgh.

An explosion triggered a fire on Feb. 11 that burned for days at the three-well pad in Dunkard Township, about 70 miles south of Pittsburgh, prompting state regulators, emergency responders and well control specialists to establish a command center at the site for what regulators called one of the worst oil and gas disasters in the state's modern history. The blast left one worker hospitalized and Ian McKee, 27, of Morganstown, WV, dead (see Shale Daily, Feb. 18). His remains were found on the well pad days after the fire broke out.

McKee's parents, who currently live in Pennsylvania, filed the lawsuit and hired the Pittsburgh-based personal injury firm Gismondi & Associates to seek damages. Attorney John P. Gismondi said the lawsuit will serve as a fact-finding mission so the firm can proceed with the case.

"We filed the claim because it enables us a legal right to demand information from Chevron," he told NGI's Shale Daily. "They have all this information and they don't have to release it. This is the only real way we can issue subpoenas, compel a judge, or you know, compel Chevron to produce information."

It remains unclear what exactly happened at the Lanco 7H, where the explosion and fire broke out. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) initially said that a blowout had caused the explosion, but backtracked the next day and said crews were preparing to run tubing ahead of a production start date at the well (seeShale Daily, Feb. 12). Both the DEP and Chevron are conducting ongoing investigations into the matter and officials have said they believe the fire started at the surface, but the cause remains unclear.

Gismondi said his firm has been in contact with the DEP, which has provided limited information because it has not yet released a full report on the matter.

"All we really know is that gas was released from the well and that's not supposed to happen," he said. "Why it happened requires further inquiry."

DEP spokesman John Poister said the agency plans to release a full report later this month or sometime in August. The report, he said, will provide a full review of the accident, determine a possible cause and make recommendations to avoid a similar accident in the future.

In April, the DEP sent Chevron a notice of nine violations for the fire (see Shale Daily, April 11), citing the company for, among other things, temporarily refusing regulators access to the site shortly after the fire broke out. At the time, Chevron said it was merely following protocol and had barred all personnel from the site of the blast. The company could not comment on a pending legal matter, but said it would soon file a response to the family's lawsuit.

Poister added that the DEP has not issued a consent order or fined the company, saying its notice of violation for the incident is still pending.

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