Chevron Blocks Access by State Regulators to Gas Well Explosion Site

April 30, 2014

One worker was killed February 11, 2014, when a Chevron gas well exploded near Bobtown, Pennsylvania, and burned for five days.  But inspectors from the state's Department of Environmental Protection were stopped by Chevron from approaching the site — thus keeping them from seeing possible safety violations. The DEP is the agency that is supposed to be overseeing drilling safety.

The DEP acquiesced at the time, but later cited Chevron for nine violations at the site. One of those violations was refusing access by the DEP — access required by law and by the explicit terms of Chevron's permit.

The concern for environmental journalists is that if state regulators do not know of violations at a hazardous site, there is no way a company can be held accountable and no way the endangered public can know about the problem.

Chevron responded to safety concerns by offering residents of the Bobtown community gift certificates for pizza.

The issue of hazmat scofflaws thumbing their noses at regulatory agencies may be more serious than this one incident suggests.

After a February 12, 2014, chemical spill at a Northern California refinery operated by Tesoro, the company not only barred access to the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, but refused to preserve the accident scene, refused to provide requested interviews, and refused to provide requested documents.

And after the April 2013 explosion at the West, Texas, fertilizer depot that killed 15, the Chemical Safety Board also had trouble accessing the disaster site. It is the CSB's legal mandate to investigate such incidents. In that case, the problem was primarily turf conflicts with other agencies, such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.