Community and environmental organizations have asked Gov. Tom Wolf to revoke a state issued permit for a shale gas fracking waste disposal well in Plum, saying the well could endanger public drinking water supplies in Pittsburgh and nearby communities.
Protect PT, the Breathe Collaborative, and Citizens for Plum say in the letter to the governor that allowing the Penneco Sedat #3A class 2 waste injection well to operate will significantly increase the risk of toxic chemical and radioactive contamination of surface and groundwater, cause mine subsidence and increase chances of earthquakes.
The letter, dated Wednesday, Jan. 13, and co-signed by 45 additional organizations and individuals, calls on the governor to nullify the state permit to protect the Allegheny River as a source of drinking water for the city of Pittsburgh and other communities.
“With this urgent action,” the letter states, “you will protect our families, our communities and most importantly our water from the troubling, secretive, radioactive and toxic waste of the gas industry.”
“It’s short-sighted to issue a permit and allow this well to operate given its long-term potential impact on city of Pittsburgh drinking water,” Gillian Graber, executive director of Protect PT, said in a virtual news conference Thursday.
Delmont-based Penneco Environmental Solutions received a permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection in April 2020 that allows it to convert the former oil and gas well into a 1,900-foot deep wastewater disposal well that can accept more than 2.27 million gallons of briny, chemically contaminated fracking wastewater a month. The facility, which would be the first deep disposal well in Allegheny County, received a federal Environmental Protection Agency permit in March 2018.
Opponents of the well, many of whom testified in opposition to the facility at public hearings, say in the letter to the governor that revocation of the state permit is warranted because of recently discovered structural deficiencies in the well, the potential for mine subsidence and earthquakes, and the disposal of radioactive wastewater that can cause cancer.
Anthony Ingraffea, a professor of engineering at Cornell University, said Penneco and the DEP used old and inferior testing methods to determine if the well, which was drilled in 1989 into the Murrysville sandstone formation but never put into production, is structurally sound.
“The injection would occur only about 1,000 ft. below the groundwater aquifer, which means there is a high probability of upward migration of fracking waste through defects in the well’s 30-year old casing,” Mr. Ingraffea stated in the release. “And that presents a serious risk to well and surface water.”
He said at the news conference that the high, repeated pressures used to force the wastewater down the well makes the well “inadequate to its new purpose.”
The news release also states that Plum Borough is extensively undermined and the well was originally drilled through the Renton Coal Mine, a portion of which has been on fire since 1959, causing unknown structural degradation.
Ben Wallace, Penneco chief operating officer, said all of the issues raised in the letter have been raised in state and federal public hearings on the permits and settled to the satisfaction of the regulatory agencies. Which in PA means little more than nothing. DEP’s history (like Alberta’s AER) shows the regulator is never to be trusted.
“The regulatory agencies have investigated fully in terms of protecting the public and the risk is not there,” Poof! Magic! All risk gone! Just like an American judge making $7 Billion frac-debt vanish for frac’er Chesapeake said Mr. Wallace, who disputed characterizations that there are inadequacies or deficiencies in the company’s permits or operations.
Marc Jacobs, Penneco senior vice president, said the company plans to begin accepting waste at the Plum facility in March. He said the company will closely monitor radioactivity levels at the well by going to the pub every night for a few brews?, and noted that a deep injection well it operates in West Virginia produces “extremely low” radioactivity readings.
In response to questions the governor’s office will review the letter, but it said the governor does not have the authority to revoke or suspend permits. It said also that ensuring that permitted projects meet all statutory and regulatory requirements is the responsibility of DEP and the department will review the details of the Plum well.
The DEP issued a statement saying many of the concerns raised by opponents Thursday were addressed in the comment and response document issued by the department in conjunction with its decision on the permit.
That decision document states, “Penneco’s proposed operation is sufficient to protect surface water and water supplies, and it is improbable that disposal into the proposed Sedat #3A well would be prejudicial to the public interest. In consideration of the proposed well’s mechanical protections and the injection zone’s distance and geologic separation from public natural resources, the Department believes public natural resources will be conserved and maintained.”
Matt Kelso, a Plum resident and manager of data and technology at Fractracker Alliance, an environmental nonprofit that tracks and maps shale gas development, said wastewater injection wells can put pressure on geologic fault lines, producing earthquakes.
“The company says that won’t happen because this is shallower well, far away from basement rock, but there’s evidence these types of wells have also caused seismic activity in sedimentary rock layers,” Mr. Kelso said. The frac industry’s usual deceptive circle dance. When Encana/Ovintiv began their extreme shallow frac experiments in Alberta, they told concerned communities like mine, that the contamination cases in USA were on deep wells, and would never happen in Alberta because the frac’ing was shallow (and said the opposite when they were frac’ing deep in Alberta). When I was on speaking tours in the USA, industry told concerned communities and me, that contamination would never happen there because their wells were deep, that the contamination in Canada happened because the fracs were ultra shallow.
The Penneco deep injection well, classified by the EPA as a Class II well, is one of 13 permitted for disposal of oil and gas drilling and fracking wastewater in the state, according to the DEP. Eight are currently operating.
There are approximately 180,000 Class II wells in the U.S., 20%, or 36,000 used for disposal of oil and gas drilling and fracking wastewater. The EPA estimates that more than 2 billion gallons of those fluids are injected into such wells in the U.S. each day, mostly in Texas, California, Oklahoma, and Kansas.
The letter to the governor requests “an immediate and comprehensive investigation” of fracking waste, including impacts of naturally occurring radioactive materials and brine brought to the surface during deep drilling and fracking in the Marcellus and Utica shales. It states that studies are needed to determine if there is a link between the radioactive waste from shale gas drilling and fracking operations and liver, breast and bone cancer.
“Studies (like the one currently underway at University of Pittsburgh) are needed to examine the potential link between the radium in fracking waste and the spike of rare childhood cancers, including Ewing sarcoma, in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale,” the groups wrote in the governor’s letter.
“Fracking has a toxic and radioactive waste problem that has never been adequately addressed and solved,” said Dr. Ned Ketyer, a consultant with the Southwestern Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project. “Injecting this waste into an unstable well in close proximity to our region’s drinking water source is a shortsighted and irresponsible plan, and will make people sick. It should be abandoned immediately.”
Terrifying! Injected oilfield wastewater may trigger earthquakes for ‘decades.’ More terrifying: Percentage of high-magnitude quakes felt at the surface increases with depth of waste injected & may create greater magnitude quakes years after injection rates decline or stop.
1990 cartoon in Victoria Times Colonist
New Study: Airborne radioactivity increases downwind of frac’ing; Particles released could damage health of residents nearby. Marco Kaltofen: “This investigation backs up its big conclusions with big data.” Petros Koutrakis, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in Boston, led the study: “If you asked me to go and live downwind [of fracking sites], I would not go.”