COUDERSPORT — The Potter County Commissioners hosted a public meeting Thursday to provide citizens update on the JKLM Energy spill in Reese Township, Sweden Township in September.
Representatives of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and JKLM Energy provided the latest information about the contamination and the responses by the agency and company, as well as addressing remaining public concerns.
County Commissioner Doug Morley noted this meeting was meant to provide "a sense of what is going on." Alluding to the Potter County commissioners' credibility at the state level, he added, "We want to stay ahead of the situation and not chase it down the road."
Morley also pointed to the key role fellow commissioner Paul Heimel has played in this case and others as an advocate for rural Pennsylvania.
Jennifer Means of DEP presented a brief background of events that began on Sept. 14 when JKLM Energy was drilling into bore hole on a well pad for an unconventional well. Between Sept. 15-17, the company used prohibited chemicals to retrieve a broken drill bit from a depth of about 570 feet of an uncased borehole.
During the question and answer section of the agenda, a JKLM official refused to reveal any action the company took against the personnel responsible for using the chemicals, calling it "a private matter."
On Sept. 18 came the first report of "soapy" water from home systems.
DEP filed a notice of violation to JKLM for using chemicals too close to groundwater resources. As reported in the Shale Gas Roundup newsletter, a quarterly publication of the Natural Gas Resource Center, "Two public water suppliers who draw from sources downgradient from the spill site off North Hollow Road — Coudersport Borough and Charles Cole Memorial Hospital — have switched to alternative sources as a safety precaution."
Heimel and Coudersport Borough Manager Beverly Morris said that the borough's east well, which has been in use for many years, has been shut down as a precaution. "The borough is anxious to get it back on line,” Heimel said. "The good news is there is no contamination."
Prior to restarting the public water supply wells, a 72-hour purge is required, followed by sampling.
On Sept. 23, JKLM met with the public water suppliers, and Potter County officials, including the emergency management agency director.
The plugging of 1182HU gas well was completed on Nov. 18.
During October and November four monitor wells have been installed on the well pad and samples taken.
"Throughout this process, there has been no adversarial relationship with JKLM," Means said.
Prior to the meeting, Mary Anne Heston, a concerned citizen, circulated a petition to have JKLM identify all chemicals injected into the local aquifer.
Two professional geologists overseeing the investigation said the focus of the probe is "what was released and where did it go?"
JKLM has said a surfactant — a soap-like substance of which isopropanol is a major component — and rock oil, a lubricant for air hammers, were released
Water samples have been taken from home wells, surface water and public water supply wells. Phase one of the investigation is not yet final.
DEP has had water samples analyzed for indications of soap, 65 volatile and 68 semi-volatile organic compounds and 23 metals. “It was better to test water samples for a wider range of compounds so as not to miss anything," one official said.
Since the investigation opened, DEP has received 14 complaints from homeowners about water contaminants. Six showed a positive impact, one showed no impact and seven are currently being evaluated.
On Oct. 31, JKLM notified DEP of its intent to plug the well. That occurred on Nov. 17.
According to Scott Blauvelt, director of regulatory affairs for JKLM, shortly after residents downstream noticed water problems, the company contacted DEP to launch an investigation.
Three days, later, on Sept. 24, JKLM began providing potable water to the affected residences.
Representatives from Penn E&R, a full-service environmental engineering and energy consulting company, with extensive experience in environmental compliance, much of it in this region, spoke about their role in responding to and monitoring wells, data collection and hydrological investigations.
One company official said, "We have to be sure our data collection is usable and sent to JKLM so the company can make weekly status reports to DEP."
In three months, Penn E&R has collected 600 water samples from 120 sites. These samples are then sent to three accredited laboratories for analysis for components.
An analysis showed the surfactant was alcohol-based and the other was mineral-based.
Of the four monitoring wells on the pad, no detrimental effects on the aquifer have been noticed, it was reported. In general, water in this area contains concentrations of materials not associated with natural gas drilling.
JKLM plans to install treatment systems on water systems, with the first one slated for January 2016.
When the public had the opportunity to ask questions, on person inquired whether the fine imposed on JKLM would be distributed locally for environmental stewardship. Marcus Kohl of DEP's Williamsport office, replied, "We don't know yet. It depends on the penalty.”
Responding to another question, a JKLM official noted the company has one pipeline under construction in Potter County, with several others in the permitting process.
Another person suggested monitoring wells be drilled before exploratory drilling begins.
"We've talked about this at DEP, but no decision has been made," said Kohl.
One person questioned the use of a corrosion inhibitor used in hydrological fracking, asking what is the rest of the fluid?
The meeting was advertised to last two hours, and Morley adhered to that time limit. For people whose questions were not answered, they can use the county's website.