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Environment & Energy

Chevron Fined $940K For Fatal Gas Well Explosion

Chevron Appalachia has agreed to pay a nearly $940,000 fine levied by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources over an explosion and fire that killed a contractor at a company well site in Dunkard Township, Greene County. 

Contract worker Ian McKee, 27, died in the explosion and fire that occurred Feb. 11, 2014, as a crew was preparing a well for production.  The explosion ignited another well, which was on the same pad. DEP spokesman John Poister said the fires burned for four days and the wells continued to emit gas and production fluids until they were capped several days later.

Poister called McKee's death "very tragic," but acknowledged the fatality is not part of the department's purview.

"DEP's role is to look at where the problems were in regards to the regulations that oversee the safe operation of a wellpad, and that's what we investigated for this penalty."

Last month, Chevron agreed to pay $5 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit filed by McKee's family.

A Chevron spokeswoman says the Moon Township-based company "deeply regrets" the incident and has worked with the DEP to investigate and resolve the problems.

According to Poister, DEP was particularly concerned about the lines of authority between Chevron management and employees on the wellpad.

"And also for how various operations on the wellpad were conducted," Poister said.  "Those were the things that were clear violations."

The department's investigation found that an ejected nut-and-pin assembly allowed gas to escape, likely causing the explosion and subsequent fire. He said Chevron has inspected other wells with similar installations.

"They have set up guidelines and have developed an improved operation for that element, particularly when the wellhead is under pressure," Poister said.

He said the priority in sitting down with Chevron or any company that is in violation is "to fix the problem."

"That is a key element to reach an agreement on how the operations will be carried out, how the wellpad will be made safer and how this type of accident will hopefully never occur again."