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Greene County fire stops, safety still an issue

The explosion and fire that shocked rural Greene County last Tuesday has finally gone out after four days of nonstop burning. After injuring one man and taking another man's life, crews must now worry about deadly toxins that will likely leak from the two dysfunctional well heads.

For inexplicable reasons, the gas that fueled the flames in one of the site's three wells decreased enough for the fire to extinguish itself late Saturday afternoon. The fire had been going out and then reigniting. Crews waited until the flames had been out long enough, then used laser technology to check the temperature of the area around the explosion, determining that it was in fact safe enough to get somewhat closer. However, the remains of the missing man who is feared dead have not yet been found. 

Now that the flames have stopped, Chevron says it can move closer in toward the site, dismantle and remove the crane, and place caps on the wells. Chevron officials say that they will treat the situation as though there is still a fire burning as a safety precaution. The spokesperson says that as soon as the disabled crane can be removed from the site, crews will fill giant water tanks to use in case the flame ignites once again.

The water will be pumped in from Dunkard Creek, but water safety experts from nearby West Virginia University say that there is no danger in using the creek's water and that it will not damage the ecosystem. In fact, pumping the water will actually stop a five-year-old algae boom that has been infesting the creek.

So, while water conditions are not an issue, environmental experts and the DEP are worried about air pollution from the millions of cubic feet of methane and other gases that are not burning off, but instead escaping into the atmosphere. Rather than spitting out flames that burn the gases, the well site now has large clouds of gaseous vapors being wafted into the surrounding countryside. The fear is that clean-up crews and nearby residents will be breathing in dangerous gases, such as benzene and toluene. Enough buildup of these gases can lead to pollutant rain and snow or even spontaneous fires in nearby valleys in extreme conditions.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Chevron: Greene County gas well fires have stopped" 17 February 2014

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