Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection is investigating two methane leaks in Sullivan County

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection is investigating two methane leaks in Sullivan County by Bob Downing, October 16, 2012,
Although DEP has not yet determined the cause of either methane migration, an abandoned well from the 1950’s was discovered around a mile northwest of the Pleasant Valley Road problem area. DEP detected combustible gas at the surface of the ground above the abandoned BJ Broschart well in Forks Township. A township resident reported to RDA that the well was drilled to a depth of 7,000′ and never put into production.  “Since the well is considered an orphaned well, with no viable operator, the department assumed the responsibility of plugging the well through the Orphaned Well Plugging Fund,” said Spadoni. “Had we not taken this action, this well would have simply been added to a list of thousands of orphaned wells waiting to be plugged, and it could have taken many years,” said Spadoni.  “We first became aware of the [Pleasant Valley Road] situation through a report form Chesapeake, after the company received a complaint from a resident,” said DEP’s Community Relations Coordinator Dan Spadoni in an email. “The initial investigation led to the temporary evacuation of the resident due to elevated levels of methane in the basement of the home.”

[Click to hear the eerie sound coming from the methane vent in Sullivan County]

Vents and alarms were installed so that the resident could return to the property.  “Screening and further investigation in the area identified several other water supplies, including that of the complainant, with elevated levels of methane,” said Spadoni.  According to DEP, there were no obvious problems with Chesapeake’s nearby Lambert Farms well that would have contributed to the methane migration.  “[That’s] why there is no specific violation in our compliance system,” said Spadoni.  The other methane migration occurred in the Black Creek area of Forks Township, which is about 4 miles away from the BJ Broschart well.  “There is one potentially impacted water supply as well as surface expressions of methane in the creek. The nearest gas wells to this occurrence are Chesapeake’s Black Creek and Insinger wells,” said Spadoni. “Again, there are no obvious problems relating to the construction of these gas wells, which is why there are no specific violations noted.”

As drilling activity increases in the Marcellus Shale region, so do the risks posed by abandoned wells.  “When new gas wells are drilled near abandoned wells, the abandoned wells present an increased risk of gas migration,” said Laurie Barr of Save Our Streams PA. “Unplugged wells can provide pathways between formation layers and the surface.  “Safety issues arise when abandoned wells are located within close proximity to active drilling,” said Barr. “In McKean County a home exploded. The DEP subsequently ordered the operator to plug three abandoned wells that were discovered during the investigation into the house explosion.”

When asked to comment, Sullivan County resident and gas industry watchdog John Trallo said, “Not only is the DEP unwilling to hold the industry responsible, it seems like they go out of their way to actually cover up for them without investigation.  The lack of information and transparency by DEP about the these kind of situations leaves the public in the dark as to just how often they are occurring – something you would think would be helpful in analyzing the safety of shale gas development.”

When Chesapeake’s Andy Travis was asked if they had ever drilled into an abandoned well in the area, Travis truthfully answered no. Perhaps a better phrasing of the question would have yielded a different answer: has hydraulic fracturing of a Chesapeake well ever caused communication with an abandoned well? [Emphasis added]

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