February 20, 2018

New Information Surfaces in Washington County Water Well Contamination Complaint

Little is known about tracers, the chemical and low-level radio nuclei added to the fracking process to assess the success of drilling thousands of feet underground
By Don Hopey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 16, 2015

Range Resources used chemical and low-grade radioactive isotope “tracers” to chart and analyze the reach of hydraulic fracturing done on a gas well in Amwell in 2009.

But, according to a motion filed Wednesday in Commonwealth Court by attorneys for Loren “Buzz” Kiskadden, the gas drilling company didn’t tell nearby property owners in Washington County who were dealing with contaminated water wells.

And last fall, the motion continued, Range didn’t say it used specially formulated fracking tracers during a hearing before the state Environmental Hearing Board, after which the board affirmed the state Department of Environmental Protection’s determination that Range’s Yeager 7H shale gas well in Amwell didn’t contaminate Mr. Kiskadden’s water.

Now his lawyers, John and Kendra Smith, are tracking those recently revealed tracers as they try to map a hydrogeologic link between Mr. Kiskadden’s water well and Range’s Yeager gas well and an adjacent, leaky 13.5-million gallon fracking wastewater impoundment.

The Smiths are asking Commonwealth Court to vacate the hearing board decision denying their client’s contamination claim and send the case back to the board for a rehearing on the new evidence. They filed an initial appeal of the hearing board decision last month.

The tracer information came from sworn depositions by employees of Multi-Chem and Universal Well Services Inc., two of Range’s fracking stage subcontractors on the Yeager well. The employees were subpoenaed for a separate but parallel case in Washington County involving additional allegations of water contamination from Range’s Yeager well site.

“We just stumbled upon it in the depositions, but it shows we didn’t have all the information, and the information we didn’t have could have changed the outcome at the EHB,” Mr. Smith said. “The EHB never had a chance to look at this evidence, and that’s prejudicial to the case.”

According to the filing, antimony — one of three solid tracers used at the Yeager well by Protechnics — another Range subcontractor, was also found at four times the federal maximum contaminant level for drinking water in Mr. Kiskadden’s well.

The filing also alleges that Range, which argued during the case that Mr. Kiskadden’s water was typical of the area’s ground water, concealed a draft letter by the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry that showed the water to contain high concentrations of sodium, total dissolved solids, methane, arsenic and “diesel range organics,” some “high enough to affect your health …”

In response to questions about allegations in the Commonwealth Court filing, Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella cited the hearing board’s June decision and an EPA study in maintaining that the company’s operations didn’t contaminate Mr. Kiskadden’s water.

“There’s no additional information in this filing that changes the fact that Range and the broader industry is protective of the environment and the public,” Mr. Pitzarella wrote in an email response to questions, “and that Range’s activities did not impact Mr. Kiskadden’s water supply in any way.”

The drilling boom in Pennsylvania is a decade old, but little is known about tracers, the chemical and low-level radio nuclei added to the fracking process to assess the success of drilling thousands of feet underground.

Download the Adjudication as a pdf.