East Finley well fire

A firefighter is shown at the scene of the blaze in June 2018 at CNX’s Morris 31 well pad in East Finley Township.

A lawsuit filed by a worker who reports ongoing injuries from a 2018 fire at an East Findlay Township shale gas well pad accuses an oil field company of causing his injuries through its “normal and routine practice” of fueling dangerously hot pumps while leaving them running.

The lawsuit was filed in the Washington County Court of Common Pleas on behalf of Roger Isaacs and Keri Dawn Norman, of Clarksburg, W.Va. It names Texas-based U.S. Well Services Inc. and a local subsidiary as defendants, saying the entities were in charge of operations at CNX’s Morris 31 well pad on June 27, 2018, when the fire started about 10 p.m.

The lawsuit, which was filed Monday, blames the practice known as “hot fueling” – refilling the tanks on the pumps of the hydraulic fracturing wells without halting the operation to turn them off – for injuries that Isaacs suffered during the incident. The “inherently dangerous” method was allegedly a “normal and routine” way of doing business for U.S. Well Services, according to the lawsuit,

Representative at the company’s headquarters didn’t return a phone call and email requesting comment. The couple’s attorney, John Bitonti, didn’t return a message left at Yablonski, Costello and Leckie, the firm where he works.

Bitonti wrote that Isaacs was at the Newland School Road well site as a crew leader for the fuel supplier Sprague Energy, which does business as Coen Energy.

As Isaacs finished filling one tank with the low-sulfur diesel he was delivering, he uncapped a tank on the next pump. When he did so, “diesel fuel spewed from somewhere ..., sprayed into his eyes and, contacted a portion of heated pump surface and ignited, resulting in (Isaac’s) injuries and damages,” Bitonti wrote.

Diesel ignites on surfaces with temperatures of 842 degrees, according to the lawsuit. It always ignites on surfaces above 932 degrees. Bitonti added that the pump turbos, which were located right over the fuel tank fills, “are believed to have reached temperatures of at least 1,200 degrees,” based on how long the pumps had been running and the fact that the fuel caught fire.

Emergency officials said at the time that an unnamed worker had been taken to Washington Hospital. He’d been released after being treated because of fuel that had splashed on his face. An estimated 4,000 gallons of fuel burned. Firefighters had the fire under control in about two hours, but were at the site until 3:30 a.m.

Three months before the fire, U.S. Well Services was given an award for “excellence in well completion” during the Northeast Oil and Gas Awards gala dinner in Pittsburgh.

U.S. Department of Labor records show Sprague Energy later agreed to a $12,934 fine levied by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Officials cited a recommendation that engines be turned off when refueling them. Sprague isn’t a defendant in the lawsuit. Neither is CNX.

The lawsuit includes claims of negligence and strict liability on Isaacs’ behalf. His injuries are “sprains and strains to his neck and back and irritation and visual disturbance to his eyes.” He also experiences anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. “These injuries have aggravated pre-existing conditions,” Bitonti added. The lawsuit alleges loss of consortium on Norman’s behalf.

Each of five counts of the suit requests more than $50,000.

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