DEP posts water woes from oil and gas

There have been 12 documented cases of water contamination by oil and gas operations in Warren County since 2008, according to recently released documents by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The DEP last Thursday posted online links to the documents after the agency conducted a “thorough review” of paper files stored among its regional offices. The Associated Press and other news outlets have filed lawsuits and numerous open-records requests over the last several years seeking records of the DEP’s investigations into gas-drilling complaints.

There are a total of 243 cases from 2008 to 2014 throughout Pennsylvania, some where a single drilling operation impacted multiple water wells. The problems listed in the documents include methane gas contamination, spills of wastewater and other pollutants, and water wells that went dry or were otherwise undrinkable. Some of the problems were temporary, but the names of landowners were redacted, so it wasn’t clear if the problems were resolved to their satisfaction.

Other complaints are still being investigated.

Letters from DEP were sent to three residences in Sheffield Township, two residences in Mead Township, three residences in Glade Township, three in Pleasant Township and one in Sugar Grove Township.

The three letters were sent to Sheffield Township residents between November 2008 and June 2010.

In one letter the DEP says, “It appears Howard Drilling Inc. has taken responsibility for the loss of your water supply and has provided an alternate source through the drilling of a new well.”

Another letter cited elevated levels of iron, stronium and total dissolved solids in a water sample, but was determined not to have a long-term effect after returning to water standards. Howard Drilling, Inc. “drained the spring box and removed the drill cuttings and other debris,” DEP said.

The third letter says DEP concluded its investigation after a complaint of possible water contamination. “It was apparent from the visual appearance and water test results from samples taken on May 18, 2010, that during the drilling of (redacted) conducted by Duhring Resources, drill cuttings had contaminated your water supply. However, sample results from water tests taken on May 26, 2010 indicate that all parameters are within drinking water standards and that the contamination was not long term,” DEP said.

All the letters include variations of the same sentence – “As a result, the Department has concluded that although the water supply was initially affected by oil and gas activity, it does not appear to have any long term affect,” or “…the Department has concluded that recent oil and gas activity has caused your water loss,” or “…the Department has concluded that recent oil and gas activity did cause your water supply to become diminished.”

The oil and gas operators are not identified in all of the letters. For example, a letter sent to a residence in Mead Township on July 28 from DEP said it found levels of iron and aluminum above drinking water standards, but redacted the name of the oil or gas operator.

“The results of the laboratory analysis as well as presumption of liability due to (redacted) conventional oil well being drilled within 1,000 feet and less than 6 months prior to June 20, 2014 indicate an affected water supply,” DEP said.

Other letters identify companies that DEP says restored water supplies. “However, it appears that Homeland Energy has restored your supply through deepening your well and cleaning your filters and treatment system,” a letter to a Glade Township residence on Feb. 18, 2010 said.

A May 4, 2012 letter to a Pleasant Township residence said, “As a result, Allegheny Enterprises was required to replace your water supply by drilling a new well and installing a water treatment system.”

Another letter to a Pleasant Township residence on Jan. 4, 2013 found a “significant increase” in iron and manganese.

“After reviewing the results of the water tests taken on Noember 26, 2012, and comparing them with the pre-drill water tests supplied by Armac Resources, the Department has conluded that recent oil and gas activities have affected your water supply,” the DEP said.

A Glade Township residence was sent a letter on Oct. 1, 2013 that found elevated levels of aluminum, arsenic and calcium had contaminated a spring. “However, on July 19, 2013, Dan Anderson from Chestnut Oil cleaned and chlorinated your spring box, removing the dril cuttings,” DEP said.

A complete list of the water supply determination letters are available through the DEP website at www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/oil-and-gas-reports/20297.