ALLEGANY, N.Y. — Following the explosion of a home on West Branch Road in November, a private group that has stepped forward to help ease the worries of residents in the valley has been Concerned Citizens of Cattaraugus County.
The group, led by president Rob Mrowka, has checked for methane levels in abandoned oil wells and water wells in the vicinity of the explosion of Ron and Betty Jo Volz’s home on Nov. 18. They have also shared information with residents on the West Branch and Four Mile Roads who are concerned the explosion may be linked to oil wells drilled in the area by Dimes Energy of Canada and Dallas Morris Drilling of Bradford, Pa. Town of Allegany officials, who have no authority over the drilling operations and therefore can’t comment on the issue, have reported that the Dimes’ parcel in the West Branch and Four Mile areas, which comprise approximately 200 wells, had a total assessment of $1,535,232 at the end of 2019. The amount is expected to figure into the Town’s tax base in 2021.
On Thursday, Mrowka, a retired senior biology scientist from Franklinville, said he has learned that the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Region 8 Mineral Resources, is heading up the Allegany investigation. In addition, it was noted that residents in the vicinity of the blast may contact Paul Giachetti, Region 8 in Avon, to have their water wells and taps tested for methane. Mrowka said testing is not part of Region 8’s direct responsibilities, but is being done in the interest of safety for the residents. Giachetti can be contacted at (585) 226-5325.
Todd J. Pignataro, public information officer with the DEC, Region 9 in Buffalo, issued a statement Thursday for the affected areas.
“DEC has conducted sampling of some water wells in the area for methane,” the statement said. “DEC has not found high levels of methane in water wells in the West Branch and Four Mile areas. It is not unusual for unplugged abandoned wells to release small amounts of methane to the surface. Such wells are plugged prior to drilling nearby. Further, in its testing, DEC has found no evidence of explosive conditions in home tap water, or the air tested within homes.”
The statement further noted that “the investigation into the Nov. 18, 2019 explosion of the home at 3699 West Branch Road is ongoing. The investigative work underway by DEC is extensive. It is expected to take several months to complete. No further information relative to the incident is available at this time while the investigation is ongoing.”
In addition, the DEC stated the moratorium on drilling in the immediate area surrounding the Volz property, which was issued in early December, remains in effect. Drilling operations continue outside of the moratorium area.
In the meantime, Mrowka said Concerned Citizens and its volunteer activists will continue to be available to help the affected Allegany households. He said Concerned Citizens and Laurie Barr, an activist from Coudersport, Pa., have monitored several abandoned wells in the area of the current drilling.
“This is what Laurie has been doing in Pennsylvania and Ohio for quite a while,” Mrowka said.
“In the process of doing so, they made contact with the residents and neighbors in the vicinity of the Volz home,” Mrowka continued. “They were welcomed into their properties and homes to do testing. They put in well over 100 hours of testing and they’re finding degrees of methane in both the air and water.”
A resident who appreciates the help of Concerned Citizens is Gail Hammond, who lives across the road from where the Volz home exploded.
Hammond attended the Cattaraugus County Board of Health meeting Tuesday with fellow resident Judy Capozzi to request additional water testing for homes in the affected area.
“I’m not looking to cause trouble, I’m just looking for peace,” Hammond remarked. “And Concerned Citizens have really stepped up to the plate.”
Hammond said the thing she takes issue with is that the residents on the two roads were not given any forewarning regarding the drilling, which started in 2018, or an opportunity to weigh in on the project.
“I don’t know what we’re all looking for, but I think we want the life we used to have,” she concluded.