Private well at site of deadly house explosion does not appear on state mapping system

A multi-agency investigation is underway after a deadly house explosion on Riverview Road in Crescent Township, Allegheny County.

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The Crescent Township fire chief said Tuesday that the Allegheny County Fire Marshal’s Office and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are leading the investigation.

>>> ‘Complete devastation’: 2 killed in Crescent Township house explosion

The Department of Environmental Protection confirmed to Channel 11 that oil and gas inspectors from the DEP are assisting in the investigation.

In an initial press conference, officials said there were propane tanks and a private gas well at the site of the explosion.

Natural gas that comes directly from a well, as opposed to a utility company, may be odorless, according to the DEP. That means there is no smell to notify residents of a gas leak.

The private natural gas well appears to be at the center of the investigation into what caused the blast. What is not yet clear is who was aware the private well existed.

For insight into the commonality of private natural gas wells and their regulation, we turned to University of Pittsburgh professor Jeremy Weber. He researches and teaches policy surrounding environmental and energy issues.

“The reality is reporting on, especially older wells, is pretty inadequate in Pennsylvania,” Weber said.

He said it is unknown how many homes in the state have a private or home use well.

“There’s simply not good tracking, not good follow through not good compliance,” Weber said. “There’s many different streams flowing into this river. There is historically, prior to 1955 or the late 50s, no real requirement for people who are drilling a well to actually report on the location of that well to the state.”

Now the state is playing catch up. The Department of Environmental Protection now requires operators of private natural gas wells to get a permit and submit annual reports. However, the DEP cannot enforce compliance if it does not know a well exists. It is also possible for homeowners to be unaware of an old private natural gas well on their property.

11 Investigates learned the state may have no record of the private well at the site of the explosion. PA’s Department of Environmental Protection’s oil and gas map shows no presence of a private gas well.

“It would not surprise me for you to find a well that’s not on the map,” Weber said. “It’s very plausible that a well you’re staring at on a parcel is nowhere to be found on that map.”

11 Investigates reached out to the DEP to ask if it was aware of the private well on Riverview Road prior to Tuesday morning’s explosion. The agency has not yet responded to our question.

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