Gas Well Explosion

October 16, 2015

In June 2015, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection announced its assessment of a $940 thousand fine against a Chevron subsidiary, stemming from a fatal explosion in 2014. The DEP found the company had violated several laws, some of which contributed to the explosion that killed a contractor.

The fine is one of the largest in DEP’s history, and one could assume it’s intended to be a warning to other companies harvesting and transporting natural gas in Pennsylvania. With the state set to become home to thousands of miles of gas pipeline in the coming years, regulation and oversight will become increasingly more important.

Safety Concerns

In Dallas Township, about 12 miles west of Wilkes-Barre, residents worry about the safety of three existing gas pipelines that pass through their area, and two more corporations are seeking federal permission to build new pipelines. Residents have complained about property damage caused by construction, along with noise and vibrations that can make a home’s windows rattle, saying gas companies have misled them about the effects gas mining may have.

Tensions are high in some parts of the state, due to several frightening events in recent years:

  • A 2012 explosion at a natural gas compressor station in Springville Township, about 10 miles northwest of Scranton, shook homes up to a half mile away
  • In 2013, a strong odor of gas in a Dallas Township school caused panic in the community; the odor was caused by work on a nearby pipeline, and the pipeline’s owner said it had notified the school district and township in advance, a claim the district and township denied
  • A gas pipeline rupture in Lycoming County this year caused emergency personnel to evacuate 130 residents from their homes

All three incidents occurred in facilities or pipelines owned by Williams, the same company that intends to build the 138-mile Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline through Pennsylvania. Some residents are concerned that the project, if approved, could put thousands of people at risk for serious injury.

Landowner Rights

To build pipeline on someone’s land, a gas company must have a legal agreement with the landowner. And according to the Penn State Extension office, landowners would be wise to have an attorney review any such agreements.

Pipeline construction can be more intrusive and damaging than many homeowners anticipate. Trees and plants may be destroyed, which could detract from a home’s value. Changes in a yard’s topography could cause areas of excess moisture and could lead to basement flooding. Contracts drafted by gas companies may be unclear about how long construction will take, or fail to outline a landowner’s rights, should repairs or future excavation become necessary. An attorney can help protect a landowner’s investment and rights by carefully reviewing contracts and amending them, if needed.

What the Future Brings

The DEP predicts Pennsylvania could see more than 30,000 miles of new gas pipeline in the next 10 years. That could create thousands of jobs and be a boon for the state economy. But the state must put the safety of its citizens first by developing policies and oversight that keep gas companies in-check.

If you have any questions about this topic or believe that a gas company is responsible for your injuries, the attorneys at Wapner Newman can help. For almost 40 years, we have been the trusted advocates for countless personal injury victims and their families throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We offer risk-free consultations and work on a contingency basis, which means that we do not require you to pay any fees until we have secured a recovery on your behalf. We encourage you to contact us today by calling 1-800-529-6600 or filling out a free case evaluation form.