Published: June 25, 2010
TERRY TWP. - Roslyn Bohlander of Terry Township said she knew something was wrong when her cows wouldn't drink water from her family's well this past March.
"I drew water in the barn, and the water came out muddy looking," she said. "I gave all the animals water, thinking that it was simply a mud issue, that something had stirred up the well for some reason."
She called her sister, Jacqueline Place, to tell her about the problem. Place's residence is located along North Street near Spring Lake in Terry Township. Her sister, Bohlander, lives next door and operates a 190-acre farm.
They share a water well, located on Place's property, and the women said they believe that their water problems are being caused by the John Barrett natural gas well, operated by Chesapeake. It's located across from their property on the other side of Spring Lake. Place said it's about a half-mile away.
"I called Jackie, and said, 'there's something wrong with the well because it's muddy,'' Bohlander said. "But my animals wouldn't drink the water, and animals are not particularly averse to drinking muddy water. They'll drink muddy water out of the stream, so that told us there's probably something more wrong with the water."
In addition, Place said the color of the water during the incident was red-orange, and it was so dense that you couldn't see through it. She also said globules of an oily-looking substance were clinging to the sides of her toilet bowl at that time.
Then, on April 1 of this year, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) collected samples from their water supply, which were submitted to the department's laboratory in Harrisburg to be analyzed. Place and Bohlander had called DEP the day they noticed the problems with their water, which was March 23, Place said.
In a June 8 letter to Place from DEP, Caleb Woolever, geologic specialist, oil and gas management, informed her of the results.
He wrote that the results showed two problems. In the letter, he stated that the turbidity in the water was being caused by elevated levels of iron. In addition, he said that the sample results show that methane gas was present in the well at that time at 19.2 milligrams per liter.
The DEP then collected a second sample on April 21, which showed that turbidity and iron decreased in concentration, Woolever said. Noting that turbidity and iron are typically temporary effects of disturbances in shallow aquifer systems, he wrote that presently the source of the turbidity in their well can't be determined.
That analysis also showed methane present at 5.0 milligrams per liter, he said. Place said this reading was done after a venting stack had been placed on her well.
Woolever also told Place that a water analysis that she had done on Dec. 11, 2008 had shown that methane was present at 0.010 milligrams per liter at that time. Place said she had done this analysis because she knew at that time that drilling was going to be taking place in her area in the future.
"While natural fluctuations in methane concentrations are expected, the significant increase in methane in your well warrants further investigation by the department," he wrote. "The department's investigation is ongoing into potential sources of methane in the area."
When asked for comment, Brian Grove, director of corporate development for Chesapeake, issued this statement, noting that "Chesapeake places the highest priority on health, safety, and environmental protection in our operations."
"When Ms. Place approached Chesapeake with concerns about water quality in her well, Chesapeake quickly took action to investigate the matter," Grove said in his statement. "Test results provided by a DEP-certified independent laboratory have shown no constituents that can be related to gas-drilling activities in Ms. Place's water, and furthermore, DEP has found the water to be of sufficient quality to recommend reconnecting the well to Ms. Place's home."
Grove also noted that Place's well is thousands of feet away from any drilling activity, and no other nearby landowners have raised concerns about water quality. But Place said other landowners she knows are concerned.
Place said she had been provided bottled water from Chesapeake through Chemung Spring Water Co. Inc. She said Chesapeake also provided two large tanks, or water buffaloes, to provide water to their cows and for household uses such as washing.
In addition, the pumping equipment had been disconnected from Place's well by Chesapeake. Place said she had given her permission for this. Also, methane monitors were set up in her home by Chesapeake, she said.
Chesapeake also installed the vent on her water well to abate the risk of methane build-up, according to Woolever's letter.
Chesapeake has since been seeking permission from Place to restore the well's connection to her home, Grove said. "While Chesapeake doesn't believe gas-drilling activity has had any effect on her water quality, we have been working proactively with DEP to bring resolution to this matter," Grove said.
When interviewed, Bohlander and Place also brought up concerns about a letter they said they received from Chesapeake on June 15 that their bottled water and the water in their water buffaloes would be taken away, if they didn't consent to their well being reconnected and redeveloped. According to Place, The letter, dated June 14, reads, "Specifically, if we don't have your consent by the stated time, Chesapeake will immediately remove all of its equipment from your water well and stop providing you water."
Bohlander said David Bohlander, her husband, called state Sen. Gene Yaw and the DEP because they were concerned that their cows would be without drinking water if the water buffaloes were removed.
On June 17, Place said, their bottled water had been taken away. She said that she learned about a week later from a representative of Chemung that Chesapeake had reinstated her bottled water later that afternoon on June 17, however.
Bohlander said she feels this happened only because Yaw intervened so that the water wouldn't be taken away. According to Place, she came home from errands on June 21 and found a temporary supply of bottled water on her porch, consisting of a cooler and two five-gallon bottles. She said she assumed it was from Chesapeake. And on June 24, Place said, a representative of Chemung came to her home and provided a regular supply of bottled water.
When asked for comment, Chesapeake provided this statement from Grove: "Chesapeake is continuing to supply water to Ms. Place until the situation is resolved. There should be no interruption in service. It's unclear why that would have occurred - even as briefly as she indicates - but if it did, it was a mistake. Chesapeake is pleased to know the oversight has been resolved and is glad Ms. Place continues to receive the water the company has been supplying as a courtesy."
Place said she has given Chesapeake permission to reconnect her well and test the water, with certain stipulations. This includes a provision that the water doesn't re-circulate into her home. She said she is concerned about the risks posed by methane.
In his letter, Woolever discussed the dangers of methane gas. He said, "there is a physical danger of fire or explosion due to the migration of natural gas into water wells or through soils into dwellings where it could be ignited by sources that are present in most homes/buildings."
Place said she is going to continue using bottled water to drink.
Place said she hopes that her water can get back to "the same standards before anyone drilled around here."
See also Splashdown's May 26th post,"Beyond Burlington".