Fracking Water Fallout

Wednesday, February 29, 2012 @ 12:02 PM gHale

At least two gas wells near a community complaining of sudden drinking water pollution developed casing problems during the drilling process, but neither the driller nor the Pennsylvania state environmental department revealed the problems during discussions about the contamination.

At issue is a cement casing, which prevents natural gas or fluids from leaking into nearby aquifers during the drilling and hydrofracturing, or fracking, of wells.

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There is no proof that the casing problems — or reported environmental violations — at Rex Energy Corp drilling sites caused the water contamination for at least 10 households in the rural Woodlands community, about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh. But residents and environmental groups said they just learned of the casing problems. The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), they said, doesn’t seem to understand that the lack of full transparency fuels public mistrust.

Since early last year, people have complained of suddenly discolored and smelly water, unexplained illnesses, and tests that suggest the presence of industrial chemicals in their water.

DEP said Rex corrected the casing issues. State records indicate there were no fines.

Rex Energy spokesman Derek Smith said the company experienced two “well integrity issues” and took immediate corrective action.

“The string of steel casing that protects the groundwater was never jeopardized. We remain confident that our operations have not impacted ground water chemistry in this region,” Smith said.

Rex also has said extensive tests of area well water found “no notable differences in water chemistry between pre- and post-drill water quality tests of the water wells in question.”

The company also said other homeowners in the area haven’t raised complaints or concerns about their well water, and DEP said the agency has conducted enough tests to make an informed, rational decision the compounds did not come from drilling activity.

DEP records show in September 2010, State College-based Rex received a citation for either failing to report casing job problems within 24 hours or failing to submit a plan to correct the problem within 30 days. In November the same year the company got another citation for discharging drilling waste in a stream, and failing to properly store, transport, or dispose of waste.

Rex acknowledged the well casing problems in a report on finances in late 2010, and suggested that up to five wells had such problems.

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