Posts Tagged ‘private water wells’

Webinar to focus on Penn State study of water wells near Marcellus drilling sites

Bryan Swistock, Penn State Extension Water Resources will discuss the research just completed on water well quality near Marcellus gas drilling sites.

The upcoming Penn State Extension online seminar dedicated to emerging water resources issues across the state will  focus on results from a recent study of water well quality near Marcellus gas drilling sites

The live webinar will take place from noon to 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 1. A recorded version will be available for those who cannot log in for the live offering.

“There are about 1 million private water wells across Pennsylvania, and the possible effect of Marcellus drilling on water quality in these rural drinking water supplies has been a concern of some homeowners,” said study leader Bryan Swistock, senior extension associate in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

The study was conducted from February 2010 to July 2011 by a team of researchers and county-based extension educators in the college. The research was funded by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, which is an agency of the state Legislature, and the Pennsylvania Water Resources Research Center at Penn State.

“This is the first project to provide an unbiased and large-scale study of water quality in private water wells used to supply drinking water to rural homes and farms both before and after the drilling of Marcellus gas wells nearby,” said Swistock.

The study included an intensive phase focusing on 48 water wells within about 2,500 feet of a Marcellus well site and a broader phase that included 185 water wells within about a mile of a Marcellus well. Water wells were tested for potential pollutants associated with hydraulic fracturing or site disturbance, and a subset included testing for dissolved methane.

The study also identified future research directions and critical education needs for owners of private water wells. “Future research should look at a broader number of water contaminants over a longer period of time,” Swistock said. “More detailed and longer-term studies are critical to ensuring that Pennsylvanians’ private water supplies are protected.”

Participants must pre-register for the webinars, but only one registration is required for the entire series. To register, visit online. Once participants have pre-registered, they may visit a separate link on this website to attend the live webinar on the day of the presentation.

Penn State Extension Water Webinars are held routinely from November through May and all run from noon to 1 p.m. After the Nov. 1 webinar, the next in the series will be Nov. 21, when James Clark, extension educator based in McKean County, will present “The Triple Divide Watershed Coalition — Public Water Supplies Teaming to Protect Water Resources.”


For more information, contact Bryan Swistock at (814) 863-0194, or by e-mail at


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MSC op-ed in the Pittsburgh Business Times: Marcellus Shale commission recommendations a road map to getting it right

by Kathryn Z. Klaber
Date: Friday, July 29, 2011

If Pennsylvania’s deep history has taught us anything, it’s that compromise is crucial, particularly in the public policy arena. Nearly 225 years ago in Philadelphia, the “Great Compromise of 1787” was struck during the Constitutional Convention, ensuring that all states — irrespective of population — had an equal voice in the Senate. And while the “Great Compromise” was hatched in 1787 — the same year Pennsylvania followed Delaware into statehood — the art of compromise indeed remains critical.

Last week, the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission — a diverse panel of stakeholders and experts assembled by Gov. Tom Corbett — issued a sweeping set of recommendations on how best to move forward with responsible shale gas development in the state.

Totaling some 137 pages, and outlining 96 policy recommendations — nearly half of which address environmental, health and safety policies — the unanimously approved report serves as an important step in further strengthening the regulatory framework to safely leverage the Marcellus Shale’s abundant, clean-burning natural gas reserves. With action by the General Assembly and other decision-makers, these recommendations can bolster what are already considered some of the most forward-leaning oil and natural gas policies in the nation.

While some of these recommendations may increase the cost of producing natural gas, our industry believes that collectively they strike a common sense balance. A true compromise that, if implemented properly, can help further ensure that our environment — above all — is preserved and protected for the next generation.

Here are key recommendations:

  • Offering additional protection to the state’s water supply, the commission recommends increasing the minimum setback distance from 200 feet to 500 feet from private water wells and 1,000 feet for public water supplies. It’s a common sense proposal we support.
  • We also support the recommendation to give the Department of Environmental Protection authority to require Water Management Plans, designed to protect the ecological health of water resources.
  • We recognize that with the tremendous financial benefits our host communities enjoy, there are local impacts, albeit short-term in most cases. Providing these communities with additional resources to address these impacts is a policy that we support. Additionally, providing regulatory certainty across municipalities provides a framework to enable the most environmentally and economically responsible means for natural gas production.
  • The sharing of best management practices between state regulators and the industry, is a policy we put forth under Gov. Ed Rendell’s administration, and one that will continue as this administration continues to strengthen the regulatory framework to ensure natural gas development continues in an environmentally responsible manner.

This is a snapshot of the many recommendations put forth by the multi-stakeholder commission in their report to Corbett last week. Others aim to strengthen pipeline safety requirements.

We understand the scope of this opportunity and, as outlined by the commission’s report, value the importance of working with key stakeholders to make certain we get this historic opportunity right. There is, of course, no room for compromise on that principle.

Klaber is the president and executive director of the Canonsburg-based Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC). Visit to learn more.

NOTE: Click HERE to read this op-ed online.

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Marcellus shale commission issues final report

HARRISBURG — Lt. Governor Jim Cawley on July 22 released the final report of the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, which a state Department of Environmental Protection statement says takes the first step toward developing a comprehensive and strategic plan for responsible natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania.

Governor Corbett formed the 30-member commission in March, giving them 120 days to develop recommendations on all aspects of natural gas drilling. The commission held 21 public meetings, heard 60 expert presentations and reviewed more than 650 emails and letters from the public.

To see the full 137-page report, visit:

Report Summary


Stronger Regulations for Drilling.

Increase bonding amounts from $2,500 to $10,000 and more for deeper wells. up to $250,000 for blanket bonds.

Triple well setback distance from streams, ponds, and other bodies of water from 100 to 300 feet.

Increase setback distance from private water wells from 200 to 500 feet and to 1,000 feet for public water systems.

Expand operator’s presumed liability for impairing water quality from 1,000 ft to 2,500 feet from a well, and extends the duration of presumed liability from 6 months to 12 months.

Require minimum 24-hour notification before commencing certain well site activities.

Post critical information online, including violations, penalties and remedial actions.

Expand public disclosure and information through enhanced well production and completion reporting.

Tougher Penalties for Violators.

Double penalties for civil violations from $25,000 to $50,000.

Double daily penalties from $1,000 to $2,000 a day.

Make penalties for criminal violations consistent with other environmental statutes.

Enhance DEP’s ability to suspend, revoke or deny drilling permits for failure to comply.

Enhance PA’s Energy Independence.

Develop “Green Corridors” in Pennsylvania for natural gas-fueled vehicles with filling stations at least every 50 miles and within two miles of designated highways.

Include natural gas vehicles in Pennsylvania Clean Vehicles Program.

Provide incentives for the conversion of mass transit and school bus fleets to natural gas.

Provide incentives for intra-state natural gas pipelines to encourage in-state use and help lower costs for Pennsylvanians.

Enhance air quality through increased use of natural gas for transportation.

Create Jobs for Pennsylvanians.

Build regional business parks in strategic locations to maximize job-creation potential.

Evaluate future rail needs to support industry and reduce need for truck traffic.

Develop a comprehensive strategy to maximize “downstream” use of natural gas and its by-products, such as in chemical manufacturing, plastics, etc.

Develop a strategy to help Pennsylvania companies to supply natural gas industry with the products they need.

Train Pennsylvanians for Natural Gas Jobs.

Work with industry to develop a standard curriculum to provide proper training.

Develop job-training assistance and certification programs for jobs in the industry.

Develop educational material on natural gas for use in grade and high schools.

Partner with groups like Hiring Our Heroes and Troops to Roughnecks.

Develop a gas safety inspector training facility in PA. (There is currently only one in the nation located in Oklahoma.)

Improve Infrastructure.

Create a one-stop shop for pipeline permitting process to better coordinate review and ensure thorough oversight.

Evaluate rail freight facilities and capabilities to relieve burden on roads and bridges.

Evaluate air service and infrastructure needs among regional airports.

Amend state law to allow location of energy and utility infrastructure within PENNDOT’s right-of-way.

Expand PA Natural Resource Inventory online tool to accommodate linear projects longer than 15,000 feet. (

Protect public health

Create a population-based health registry.

– Collect and evaluate clinical data from health care providers.

– Monitor citizens living near drilling sites.

Create a system for timely and thorough investigation of complaints.

Establish education programs about potential impacts on health.

Promote public safety

Assign 911 addresses and GPS coordinates for well sites.

Develop standardized emergency response plans.

Provide comprehensive training for local responders.

Create regional safety task forces.

Establish a specialized team of emergency responders.

Protect natural resources.

Establish an advisory committee within DCNR to discuss future development of state forest and park land.

Document and monitor effects of industry on plants, forests, wildlife, habitat, water, soil and recreational resources.

Review and regularly update best management practices for well site construction and operation.

Prevent spread of invasive plant species.

Help communities deal with impact.

Recommend enactment or authorization to impose a fee to mitigate to uncompensated impacts caused to communities by natural gas development.

Any fee should recognize on-going nature of certain impacts.

Attributable impacts identified by the advisory commission include:

– Environmental remediation.

– Public health evaluation and emergency response.

– Increased demand on social services.

– Infrastructure improvements.

– Natural resource agency administration and oversight.

Posted at: Pike County Courier

Q&A’s Regarding Your Private Drinking Water and the Natural Gas Industry

Over the past several weeks, we have focused on information presented at recent public forums that addressed protection and testing of private drinking water supplies near areas where natural gas drilling is occurring. Bryan Swistock, water resource extension specialist with Penn State’s School of Forest Resources, Dan Vilello with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and Jim Ladlee from the Clinton County Extension Office, fielded the following questions. (The Department of Environmental Protection responses were submitted by the North Central Region Oil and Gas Program Manager).
Q.  Does seismic testing have any impact on private water supplies? 

A.  (Swistock, Penn State Extension)  Seismic testing is a relatively low-risk activity for private water wells and springs but the vibrations from seismic operations could, theoretically, cause sediment or reduced water flow if they are conducted in close proximity to a well or spring.  Water supply owners might consider lease stipulations to keep seismic activity several hundred feet from a well or spring to reduce the risk of impacts. 

Q.  Can horizontal drilling impact private water supplies? 

A.  (Swistock, Penn State Extension)  Horizontal drilling typically occurs at several thousand feet below the groundwater aquifers that supply water to private wells and springs.  While horizontal drilling could impact a water supply, the greater risk is associated with activities near the vertical borehole.     

Q.  When private drinking water testing is conducted, do you also test for water flow? 

A.  (Swistock, Penn State Extension)  Many of the environmental consultants conducting water testing can also provide estimates of water flow or yield (in gallons per minute).  Local water well contractors and hydrogeologists can also conduct this type of flow testing.  Accurate flow measurements are time consuming and often cost several hundred dollars.  While these flow measures are valuable, they are usually less important than water quality testing.      

Q.  With regard to the cementing process in natural gas well drilling, are there regulations on how long the cement has to “set” and/or “cure”? 

A.  (Vilello, PA Department of Environmental Protection)  This question is addressed in sections 78.85 (b) and (c) (Cement standards), of the State’s Oil and Gas Regulations.  Required compressive strength is described in section 78.85(b), and the “set” time of eight hours is established in 78.85(c), stating the casing may not be disturbed for a minimum of eight hours after cementing operations.      

Q.  Regarding the State’s new cementing and casing regulations – why aren’t shallow wells included in these regulations? 

A.  (Vilello, PA Department of Environmental Protection)  The regulations apply to both Marcellus Shale wells and shallow wells – but some provisions will only apply to deeper wells because of the way the rules are structured (i.e. the use of blowout preventers (BOP’s) with a working pressure of greater than 3,000 psi need to have a second set of controls)

Q. If your drinking water is contaminated and a drilling company becomes responsible for supplying you with water perpetually, but then that company goes bankrupt or out of business, does some sort of bond exist to help the property owner.
A.  (Vilello, PA Department of Environmental Protection)  A bond or escrow account may be established depending on the particular case.  Ideally, a water supply would be restored or replaced with an equivalent water supply source that would not require any more maintenance or ongoing costs than the original supply.  However, if a treatment system is needed that may require maintenance, or connection to a public water supply, those costs can be calculated up-front for either a one-time pay-out to the property owner, or establishment of the escrow account. 

Q.  How long after a natural gas well is drilled is the drilling company responsible for any issues that may occur with someone’s private water supply? 

A.  (Swistock, Penn State Extension)  A gas drilling company can be held responsible for issues related to a private water supply at any time after drilling.  The only variable is who must prove that an impact did occur.  Within six months after drilling has occurred, the gas well drilling company is presumed responsible for any water quality impact to water supplies within 1,000 feet of their gas well (i.e. they must provide evidence that they did not cause the problem). Any issues with water supplies within 1,000 feet of the gas well that occur more than six months after drilling would have to be proven by the water supply owner and DEP.  The burden of proof for water quality problems always lies with the water supply owner and DEP.  The same is true for any water quality or quantity problem that occurs beyond 1,000 feet from the gas well site.(Vilello)  There is no time limit in the Oil and Gas Act.

Q.  If one natural gas drilling company leases your land, but then another company buys out the lease and well site, are all of the requirements under the previous lease agreements null and void? 

A.  (Ladlee, Penn State Extension) Everything depends on the language in the original lease agreement. Generally, unless there is a provision in the original lease agreement that prevents the lease from being assigned to another company the original lease would remain in force. As every situation is different and dependent upon the language in the lease agreement, anyone with a similar question should consult with a private attorney for specific legal advice.      

Q.  Is it possible for the gas drilling companies to put a dye or something similar into the drilling process so it could be tracked in the event gas or drilling material migrates? 

A.  (Vilello, PA Department of Environmental Protection)  Not really.  Dyes used for wastewater tracing tend to be filtered out and undetectable after travelling through soil for any distance.  Also, the other constituents of drilling and fracing fluids would likely mask the dye.  Other parameters that DEP typically samples for in investigating drilling related complaints, such as barium, strontium, and bromide can be detected at much lower levels and are far better indicators of a potential problem.

(Swistock/Penn State)  Various tracers have been proposed as a method to track the movement of waste fluids.  Added regulations would be necessary to require gas companies to use tracers in their drilling process.

Q.  How many DEP employees/inspectors cover how many acres? 

A.  (Vilello, PA Department of Environmental Protection)  I can only answer this for Pennsylvania’s Eastern Oil and Gas Region.  We have a complement of 21 field inspectors to cover our 45-county region.  However, there is currently activity (either Marcellus, shallow drilling operations, or gas storage fields) only in about 22 of those counties.  In addition to these field inspectors, we have engineers and biologists who are primarily responsible for permitting activities, but also do some erosion and sediment control and wetland encroachment compliance inspections.  We also have three geologists who are primarily involved in water supply complaints and gas migration investigations.     

Q.  What are the DEP inspectors actually doing – are there spot checks and unannounced checks, versus responding to complaints? 

A.  (Vilello, PA Department of Environmental Protection)  Yes — there are spot checks and unannounced checks.  Most of our inspections at well sites are unannounced.  We will sometimes coordinate with the operator for certain investigations or when we are trying to get specific information, since they are otherwise often not present during our inspections.  We also spend a lot of time responding to complaints.  In the Eastern Oil and Gas Region, we’ve received 229 complaints to investigate just between January 1 and June 29, 2011.  Of those, 125 were water supply complaints.     

Q.  How close is the nearest gas well pad to my home? 

A.  (Swistock, Penn State Extension)  There are various websites and tools that can be used to locate Marcellus drilling permits and existing wells.  The DEP eNotice system can be used to receive email notification of approved or modified Marcellus drilling permits.  Various maps and spreadsheets with locations of permits and active Marcellus wells are also available on the PA DEP Marcellus web page along with numerous commercial sites (,,, etc.). 

Excerpted  from the Clinton County Natural Gas Task Force ( ) weekly columns
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Penn State seeks water-well owners for study on gas drilling effects

Posted: March 22, 2011

Penn State’s School of Forest Resources is looking for particpants for a research study on the potential impacts of Marcellus gas drilling on rural drinking water supplies.

Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences is seeking owners of private drinking-water wells near completed natural-gas wells in the Marcellus shale region to participate in a study of the impact of gas development.

Funded by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Water Resources Research Center, the study will assess the potential impacts of Marcellus gas drilling on rural drinking water wells, according to Bryan Swistock, extension water resources specialist. The data collected from the study is for research purposes and the education of each homeowner, he pointed out.

“Private water wells near completed Marcellus gas-well sites will be selected for free post-drilling water testing of 14 water-quality parameters,” Swistock said. He noted that to be eligible for this free, post-drilling water testing, participants must meet all of the following criteria:

–Own a private water well (no springs/cisterns can be included in the study).

–Have an existing Marcellus gas well (drilled and hydrofractured) within about 5,000 feet (one mile) of the water well.

–Had your water well tested by a state-accredited water laboratory before the Marcellus gas well was drilled and are willing to share a copy of those water-test results with Penn State researchers.

“Due to funding constraints, all eligible applicants cannot be promised inclusion in this study,” Swistock said. “Selection will be based on eligibility, geographic location and other factors.”

Participants selected for the study will benefit personally by receiving a free test of their home drinking water supply and information about the results of those tests, Swistock said. Residents with water wells that meet the research criteria above should visit the following website to indicate an interest in participating in this research study:


About that Water in Your Well

Study says millions of PA residents relying on private water wells that may contain contaminants – none of which are related to the Marcellus Shale

Nearly 20,000 new wells are drilled in Pennsylvania every year. And among these, not a single one of them has anything to do with oil or natural gas.

Instead, these wells are drilled for the purpose of accessing underground sources of water. In Pennsylvania, more than three million residents rely on private wells for essential sources of potable water – second most in the entire nation behind Michigan. So lots of wells must mean lots of good, high-quality drinking water, right? Not according to a report issued last year by researchers from Penn State.

The study, available here and commissioned by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, was conducted over two years and drew on samples from more than 700 individual private water wells installed all across the state. What did the researchers find? For starters, a full 40 percent of tested wells failed to meet the state’s drinking water standards for safety. Keep in mind that Pennsylvania supports more than 1 million private water wells – which means it’s possible that more than 400,000 water wells, serving roughly 700,000 residents, are of a quality and nature of potential concern. And the worst thing about it? According to the survey, very few of these well owners even knew they had a problem.

With more than 1,300 Marcellus wells developed in Pennsylvania this year, it’s become a popular thing to assume that wells drilled for the purpose of tapping enormous and clean-burning reserves of natural gas 5,000 to 9,000 feet below the water table are having a deleterious impact on underground drinking water. The alleged culprit? A commonly deployed well stimulation technology known as hydraulic fracturing, a technique that’s been used more than a million times over the past 60 years not just for oil and natural gas, but forgeothermal production and even by EPA for Superfund clean-ups.

But as mentioned, the report on private water wells from Penn State was issued in 2009, roughly 50 years removed from the first-ever application of fracturing technology in the Commonwealth — and five years after the fracturing of the first-ever Marcellus Shale well. In other words, hydraulic fracturing has been around an awful long time in Pennsylvania, and so has the development of oil (1859) and natural gas (1881). So if the critics are right, those activities must have been identified by researchers as the greatest threats to the state’s underground water resources, right?

Take a look for yourself:

Of the 28 variables measured for each well, the results demonstrated that natural variables, such as the type of bedrock geology where the well was drilled, were important in explaining the occurrence of most pollutants in wells. Soil moisture conditions at the time of sampling were the single most important variable in explaining the occurrence of bacteria in private wells. … Inadequate well construction was strongly correlated with the occurrence of both coliform and E. coli bacteria in wells.

That’s right – we forgot to mention the fecal coliform (exactly what you think it is) and E. coli bacteria. According to the report, it turns out that 33 percent of private water wells in PA were found to be contaminated with the coliform, while a staggering 14 percent tested positive for E. coli. Another contaminant of concern is naturally occurring arsenic. Two percent of tested wells had increased levels of that, which potentially translates into 20,000 water wells across the state. According to the report, arsenic “most often occur[s] naturally from certain types of rocks but it can also come from treated lumber and pesticides.” Incidentally, Pennsylvania is among the only states in the nation without regulations governing the construction of private water wells or the periodic testing of the quality of water that comes from them.

This presentation prepared by the U.S. Geological Survey will take a minute or two to load, but take a look at slide 23 if you get the chance. Turns out Pennsylvania’s water wells are among the only ones in the nation with “high contaminant concentrations” for every one of the Big 3: arsenic, nitrates and radon. Again: Nothing in the report remotely related to Marcellus Shale activities. But don’t take our word for it – ask DEP (by way of Scott Perry, director of DEP’s Bureau of Oil and Gas Management):

“If there was fracturing of the producing formations that was having a direct communication with groundwater, the first thing you would notice is the salt content in the drinking water. It’s never happened. After a million times across the country, no one’s ever documented drinking water wells that have actually been shown to be impacted by fracking.”

Protecting underground sources of drinking water is and will always be our top priority – after all, we live here too. But if we expect the quality of our water to improve, first we’ll need to be honest about how it got where it is today, and then we’ll need to get serious about what needs to be done to improve it. That, we think, is what you’d do if you genuinely cared about the state and status of Pennsylvania’s private water wells. Unfortunately, too many folks seem all too willing to blame the entire phenomenon on the development of the Marcellus Shale – irrespective of the science, and blind to the history of the past 60 years.


Company defends its environmental record

EnCana’s hydraulic fracturing has never impacted a water well, spokeswoman says.

By Steve
Staff Writer

Wendy Wiedenbeck acknowledges that Luzerne County residents might be troubled by the fact that EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc. paid $1.5 million in fines over the past four years.

But Wiedenbeck, the community and public relations adviser for the natural gas company that will begin drilling in the Back Mountain and Red Rock areas this summer, said the company is “committed to responsible development” and today is “a leader in environmental stewardship.”

According to data Wiedenbeck provided at the request of The Times Leader, EnCana was assessed $542,000 on nine fines in 2006; $663,000 on 19 fines in 2007; $306,000 on 19 fines in 2008; and $3,000 on 10 fines in 2009. The data for 2009 is subject to change, she said.

Some Back Mountain residents and elected officials have expressed concern that drilling activities could contaminate water private water wells or the Huntsville and Ceasetown reservoirs.

Wiedenbeck said EnCana has never had an instance in which the company’s hydraulic fracturing process affected a water well.

“In fact, there has never been an instance where the fracking process impacted water wells. We have, however, experienced operational failures, which resulted in regulatory violations and fines. These range from issues with lost circulation during cementing, which resulted in permanent changes to cementing protocols in 2004, to deficiencies with location signage,” she said.

Encana’s violations have ranged a wide gamut, from a $1,000 fine after a contractor’s truck broke down on a mountain road during a restricted time period, preventing parents from picking up their children from a bus stop in 2002, to the largest fine issued by the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission for allowing gas to migrate into a creek.

The commission fined EnCana a record $371,000 after one of the company’s wells leaked into West Divide Creek in Western Colorado in 2004. The seep was found to contain the carcinogenic chemical benzene.

Wiedenbeck said that fine is included in the total assessed in 2006, and the seep resulted from a failure in cementing procedures at the well.

“We made a mistake. We moved too fast. But we worked with the commission to modify and improve the cementing procedure in Colorado. Since then, we’ve drilled hundreds of wells in Colorado without incident. But (the Divide Creek incident) is part of the reason why we’re taking a very thoughtful and measured approach to our operations in Luzerne County,” she said.

Wiedenbeck also pointed to a vast improvement in EnCana’s record related to spills.

In 2009, EnCana had 75 reportable spills totaling 4,036 barrels of material, a volume reduction of 38 percent from 2008 and 87 less than in 2007, she said.

Dave Neslin, executive director of the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, said commission staff views EnCana as “a responsible operator.”

Neslin said EnCana’s compliance has improved since the Divide Creek seep, and the company implemented an extensive remediation plan. “Much of the impact has been remediated,” he said.

Neslin said EnCana is one of the largest operators in the state, responsible for nearly 10 percent of the approximately 40,000 active oil and gas wells in the state.

He noted that the company was the first to voluntarily establish a wildlife mitigation program encompassing 44,000 acres to ensure wildlife populations will be protected, and that EnCana won a commission award last year for the company’s Courtesy Matters community outreach program.

Steve Mocarsky, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 970-7311.

Copyright: Times Leader

Casey wants EPA to probe well contamination linked to gas drilling

By Steve
Staff Writer

SCRANTON – U.S. Sen. Robert Casey wants the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate and respond to groundwater contamination that the state has linked to a natural gas well in Susquehanna County.


Read Sen. Robert Casey’s letter to the EPA at

In a letter to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, Casey noted that natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale region has led to job creation, strengthened the state economy and reduced dependence on foreign oil.

However, Casey writes, “the highly variable and unpredictable nature” of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) “that can lead to the contamination of drinking water is of great concern.” He noted the gas and oil industry is exempt from complying with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

Casey said there are many reasons for requesting EPA involvement, including recent incidents in the state that “raise the question of whether the necessary steps have been taken to protect Pennsylvania families and communities against the detrimental side effects of drilling.”

He pointed to methane gas infiltration into private water wells in Dimock Township and noted that several wells have exploded because of a suspected buildup of natural gas.

Casey said the state Department of Environmental Protection fined Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. $240,000, ordered the plugging of three natural gas wells believed to be the source of the contamination, prohibited Cabot from drilling in the vicinity for one year and required Cabot to install permanent water treatment systems in affected homes.

Casey also noted that, according to DEP, between 6,000 and 8,000 gallons of fracking fluid leaked from a pipe at a drill site and contaminated the surrounding area and a wetland in Susquehanna County in two separate spills on the same day in September 2009 – one in the afternoon that leaked 25 to 50 barrels of fluid, another in the evening that leaked 140 barrels.

“I commend DEP for taking action, but I remain concerned that the current status of federal and state oversight of gas drilling may be inadequate” to protect families living near drilling sites, Casey wrote.

The senator asked for a meeting with appropriate EPA officials to discuss natural gas drilling and whether the agency could investigate water and environmental contamination. He said he hopes Science Advisory Board officials would also attend the meeting to discuss the scope, timing and methodology of a congressionally mandated study the EPA has launched on hydraulic fracturing.

An EPA spokeswoman said officials are reviewing Casey’s letter and expect to respond in the near future.

Steve Mocarsky, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 970-7311.

Copyright: Times Leader