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OSHA: No Fine in Fatal PA Blast

Thursday, August 14, 2014

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Unable to pinpoint the cause of a fatal natural-gas explosion in southwestern Pennsylvania, federal regulators say they will not issue citations in the case.

Although the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has blamed the death of Ian McKee on his own inexperience and on lack of training and supervision, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will not cite or fine site owner Chevron Appalachia LLC in the case, OSHA said this week.

"At the conclusion of an in-depth, six-month investigation, OSHA determined that no citations would be issued, and concluded that the exact cause of the incident could not be determined," OSHA said in a statement.

Chevron Lanco fire
KDKA 2 Pittsburgh

The blast began in a shale well, igniting a fire that spread to a second well and lasted for days.

"As is routine in such investigations, OSHA involved the victim’s family both during its probe and afterwards, to explain the agency’s findings and any actions that could , be taken."

Untrained Greenhat

On Feb. 11, McKee, 27, was a novice (a so-called "greenhat") working for Houston-based Cameron International at the Chevron Marcellus shale site in Greene County, PA.

The well, already dug and completed by Chevron, was being connected to a pipeline system.

Assigned to help a more experienced worker put three wells into production, McKee apparently failed to properly tighten a bolt and locknut assembly on one of the wellheads, allowing gas to escape and eventually ignite, DEP investigators reported earlier this month. That fire then spread to a second well.

McKee had been neither trained or approved for the task he was given, investigators said. He was sent to help because he was the only person on site available.

IanMcKee and fiancee Danielle Desposito
Courtesy McKee family via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Ian McKee, 27, lived with his fiancee, Danielle Desposito, who was expecting the couple's first child. His family is suing Chevron for answers.

"The only instruction was to do what his mentor (experienced worker) told him to do," DEP said later.

DEP Probe: Supervision Lacking

The report by DEP's Bureau of Investigations noted that workers on the Lanco 7H well pad had been employed by a variety of contractors, overseen by Chevron's Well Site Managers (WSMs).

However, the investigators said, "Interviews suggested that WSMs did not provide the desired oversight at Lanco A."

The oversight was inconsistent, the report said: "At least one WSM was reported as spending most of his time in a trailer while work was performed by contractors elsewhere on the site."

In addition, the report said, "the WSM's review of each contractor's work ... is not documented with specificity."

Manager Complaints

Several WSMs complained about the demands on their time, the report said. One complained that he had to spend most of his time on the phone to get equipment; another said he had too many people to supervise.

Chevron Lanco fire
wfmj.com

Pennsylvania investigators said Chevron's well site managers had not appropriately supervised subcontractors, but OSHA did not issue citations.

In addition, the WSMs changed frequently—seven times in the seven days before the accident, DEP found. Despite the multiple handoffs in responsibility, Chevron provided only one set of "holdover" notes to investigators, DEP said.

The report also said that under Chevron's policy, an inexperienced, untrained worker like McKee should not have been allowed to work on the pressurized well.

Meanwhile, in a separate After Action Report, DEP said Chevron "failed to continually provide meaningful update information on the emergency incident" and prevented DEP personnel from entering the site.

The DEP 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.

Family Suit

The blast set off a blaze that took five days to control. McKee's remains were not found until more than a week after the explosion. He left behind a pregnant fiancee.

McKee's parents have filed suit to gain information about the circumstances of their son’s death.

   

Tagged categories: Environmental Protection; Fracking; Oil and Gas; OSHA; Pipeline; Project Management; Regulations; Worker training

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