Former DEP exec calls on agency to review well contamination again
BY ELIZABETH SKRAPITS
Times Shamrock Writer
Former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger called on the state agency Thursday to take another look into methane contamination of residential water wells in Franklin Twp.
At DEP’s northeast regional office in downtown Wilkes-Barre, Hanger decried the agency’s handling of the investigation, believing the agency worked too closely with a natural gas drilling company. Hanger is among several candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.
Three families in Franklin Forks, Franklin Twp., complained of discolored water in December 2011, sparking an investigation by DEP as to whether methane had migrated from natural gas wells into the residents’ water wells.
Because WPX was the closest driller – one well was 4,000 feet away from the homes, the other 7,000 feet – DEP ordered the company to sample private water wells in the vicinity of two gas well pads, evaluate the integrity of the gas wells and assist the families in addressing the methane in their water wells. WPX Energy Appalachia hired Echelon Applied Geoscience Consulting and Moody and Associates Inc. to do the testing and studies required by DEP.
DEP and WPX reports determined the three private wells were not contaminated by natural gas drilling. The reports said high levels of methane, metals and salts had a signature similar to that of nearby Salt Springs State Park and the Lazybrook Mobile Home Park’s former water source – that well was abandoned in 1998 because of elevated methane levels.
Hanger alleged DEP relied on WPX to do major parts of the investigation, and called for a thorough, independent investigation by the environmental agency.
Colleen Connolly, northeast region DEP spokeswoman, said the agency received the report from WPX Energy, but that’s standard investigative procedure.
“That would be part of a thorough investigation: to get all sides of the story,” she said.
DEP’s 16-month investigation involved taking and analyzing water samples and collecting data, “and we reached our own independent, fact-based conclusion,” she said.
“Mr. Hanger’s running for governor, so obviously they need a platform,” she said. “Our investigation was based on one thing: it was based on scientific fact.”
WPX Energy spokeswoman Susan Oliver also called the investigation “very thorough,” and noted that Hanger did not talk to anyone at WPX.
“As far as WPX is concerned, this is a non-issue. The DEP determined that natural gas drilling is not responsible for any contamination at the three homes,” she said. “The DEP did determine it was the historical nature of the water in Franklin Forks.”
Not Marcellus isotopes
Oliver said isotopic testing was done on the methane in the wells, and it was not from the Marcellus Shale, but instead from the same footprint that has been documented in the Franklin Forks area since the 1700s.
Hanger, who served as head of the DEP under Gov. Ed Rendell, also called for the creation of an office within state government exclusively to handle citizen complaints related to oil and gas drilling. He blames incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett for destroying public confidence in the state’s ability to handle natural gas issues.
Connolly said such an agency already exists, in the form of DEP’s Office of Oil and Gas Management.
“It’s not to the extent Mr. Hanger wanted, but we have our own oil and gas office that is charged with investigating complaints about the oil and gas industry,” she said.