PITTSBURGH — Chevron Appalachia LLC has agreed to pay a nearly $940,000 fine levied by the state Department of Environmental Protection over a natural gas well explosion and fire that killed a contractor.
Last month, Chevron agreed to pay $5 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of the worker, Ian McKee, 27, of Morgantown, West Virginia.
DEP spokesman John Poister said that the agency doesn't track fines like the $939,522 penalty announced Monday but that it's "one of the largest we've ever had."
"Chevron deeply regrets this incident and acknowledges the extensive efforts of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in its response and investigation," said Brenda Cosola, a spokeswoman for Moon Township-based Chevron Appalachia.
"Protecting people and the environment is a core value for Chevron, and we are determined to prevent an incident like this from happening again," Cosola said.
DEP investigators previously determined that an inexperienced worker at Chevron's site in Dunkard Township, Greene County, loosened a bolt without proper supervision, likely causing the well to leak and catch fire.
The investigation found that the inexperienced worker "was not supervised closely" when he used a tool on the well bore in the days before the fire and had not been trained on the procedure "or any other well procedure."
The department also said that in the week before the fire, apparently "no fewer than seven persons" served as well site manager and they might not have sufficiently communicated among themselves.
Poister said the DEP wanted to ensure that Chevron had better, more direct control over their wells in the future and is satisfied that the consent agreement and fine accomplish that.
"We wanted to make sure that they had very good management in place at their well sites, that there was a line of authority that the company controlled as to how their various contractors and employees work and that they had guidelines on how things were done on all their well sites," Poister said. "And I think we're satisfied with how they're doing that now."
The report also determined both DEP and Chevron also could have done a better job informing the news media of details about the fire, which burned for days after the initial explosion Feb. 11, 2014. But at least some of the confusion arose from Pennsylvania State Police supervision of the site immediately after the blast.
McKee was a field service technician for Houston-based Cameron International Corp. and was one of two people closest to the well when it exploded.
"In the opening seconds of the fire, one of the two employees was injured and the other disappeared from view," the DEP report said. McKee's fragmented remains were found and identified days later by a forensic anthropologist.
The well that exploded was capped 11 days later but not before a second nearby well also caught fire.
This story has been corrected to note that the related wrongful death suit was settled last month, not earlier this month; to show that the fine was levied by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, not the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources; and to note that the well fire and explosion were in Greene County, not Washington County.