By Steve McConnell, Wayne Independent, Mar 10, 2009
REGION — A natural gas drilling company has polluted drinking water in a Susquehanna County community.
The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which regulates the burgeoning natural gas industry, recently issued a violation notice to Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation for polluting groundwater with methane in a section of Dimock Township, which is just south of Montrose, the county seat.
A major component of natural gas, methane is a colorless, odorless gas that is extremely flammable and combustible, especially if it begins to concentrate in an enclosed area.
It is non-toxic to the body; however, it can cause asphyxiation as it concentrates and displaces oxygen.
DEP determined that Cabot’s gas production enterprise caused methane to enter the groundwater supply in the proximity of one road in the township, according to the violation noticed obtained by the Wayne Independent.
Four water wells, on or near Carter Road, were found to be corrupted with high-levels of methane, and Cabot was ordered to provide “alternate sources of water” to those residences – until the problem is alleviated.
Those wells are now off-line and others have been vented to prevent methane from accumulating.
DEP also ordered the company to install methane gas detectors in nine other residences, which also experienced elevated methane levels in each home’s well water.
DEP began investigating Cabot’s production activities in the township, shortly after an eight-inch concrete slab, laid above a resident’s well, exploded into pieces on New Year’s Day.
“We weren’t here when it happened,” said Norma Fiorentino, of Carter Road, whose well was rocked by the explosion. “But we came back and found a big hole in the earth where it was.”
Fiorentino said she has refused to drink her well water since that happened.
“Bologna, I knew better. You just don’t drink water that explodes,” she said. “Everybody is breathing this gas. I think we are getting it in our houses too.”
She is on the methane detector list, and she has yet to receive one from Cabot, as of Tuesday.
Attempts to contact a Cabot spokesperson were not successful.
Carmon said DEP found elevated levels of methane in Fiorentino’s well, but it has not been proven if Cabot was responsible for that particular incident.
“We can only say that the gas (methane) in the water wells has been tied to the drilling activities by Cabot,” he said.
It has been confirmed, however, that methane migrated from a gas producing geologic formation called the Upper Devonian shale, about 1,500 feet beneath the surface and above the Marcellus shale formation.
“We’ve been able to define it (the methane migration) as a production natural gas” caused by Cabot’s activities in the area, said Carmon, adding that water samples taken from the affected wells and other nearby sampling points did not find the presence of any other contaminates associated with natural gas drilling.
DEP will continue its investigation in order to understand how exactly the gas migrated into the groundwater supply, and the agency will also monitor 20 to 25 homes in the area of the methane flare-up, he said.
On Tuesday, Carter Road resident Ronald Carter said the company has not installed a methane gas detector in his home.
Carter is one of the nine residences, along with Fiorentino, that is required by DEP to get a methane detector from Cabot, after his well tested hot for methane.
The violation notice, detailing this information, was sent to the company’s West Virginia office via certified mail on February 27.
“It’s good this is getting out into the media,” said Carter. “If people would have known what the side effects of the drilling would have been, I don’t think they (the landowners) would have been as gung ho. I don’t think it’s bad. It’s going to help the economy.”
He still drinks his well water, and he heard that if you set a glass of methane-infused water on the counter for a minute, the gas will evaporate.
But, others tell him that isn’t true.
“We kind of get mixed messages,” he said.
“By the way, Cabot hasn’t given me one glass of water,” said Fiorentino.
Wayne County does not have any known production wells as of Tuesday, according to reports and DEP records. Three drilling permits have been issued.