DEP investigates ‘significant’ discharge of foam from drill site

Lock Haven Express

Waterville, Pa. — The state Department of Environmental
Protection is investigating a “fairly significant discharge” of a
white, foamy substance that eventually made its way into Pine
Creek.

The substance is believed to have come from a natural gas
drilling site that the DEP has shut down until tests are done to
see what, if any, damage may have occurred, officials said.

Cheryl Sinclair, a geologist for DEP, was collecting samples of
the suspicious substance mid-day Tuesday along Route 44, one mile
south of Waterville.

Dan Spadoni, community relations director at DEP’s northcentral
regional office in Williamsport, said the agency does not believe
any damage was done to Pine Creek from the discharge from a well
operated by Pennsylvania General Energy.

The substance did come pour down a hillside at a rate of more
than 100 gallons a minute, though, he confirmed.

“We were notified by DCNR (Department of Conservation and
Natural Resources) that there was what appeared to be a white foam
in runoff coming down from the top of the hill about a mile and a
half south of Waterville,” Spadoni said. “What this appears to be
is a product used in the well-drilling process by Pennsylvania
General Energy, which is drilling a number of gas wells on a pad on
top of the hill.”

The company notified DEP the leaked substance is Airfoam HD,
which is a surfactant used in the drilling process, he said.

DEP collected samples on Monday and sent them to its Harrisburg
lab for analysis. More sampling was to be done yesterday, both by
DEP and by Pennsylvania General, Spadoni said.

He said DEP test results should be back in about a week.

“We’ve seen this previously in other parts of our region,”
Spadoni said. “The MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) does not
indicate any potential ecological threat, but we can’t know until
we see our sample results.

“It was a fairly significant discharge of more than 100 gallons
a minute,” he continued. “It did make its way into Pine Creek.”

Spadoni said his agency notified the state Fish and Boat
Commission, which has been on the scene of the spill. However, he
noted there is a significant dillusion factor for the material
spilled, not only because of the size of Pine Creek, but its
current high water due to heavy weekend rains.

“We don’t believe there has been any harm done to the creek,” he
said. “Obviously, there is no drilling activity currently being
done at the well site.”

Spadoni said the company temporarily stopped its operations
there voluntarily and DEP has not determined yet how long the
drilling will be stopped.

Spadoni said any possible fines would be addressed at a later
time.

“We’re not even thinking about that (fines) at this time,” he
said.

A secretary in the state Fish and Boat Commission’s Pleasant Gap
office said Waterway Conservation Officer Tom Nunamacher did not
yet have a report ready on the release into Pine Creek.

Calls to Pennsylvania General Energy’s corporate offices in
Warren were not returned. A receptionist said officials were at a
natural gas trade show on Tuesday.

According to the company’s Web site, it was the one of the first
companies to successfully explore the Marcellus formation with a
well in Elk County in early 2005.

“Since that time, PGE has maintained a strong horizontal well
drilling program, with plans to add three new state-of-the-art
drilling rigs by the end of 2011,” the site states.

It holds leases for more than 439,000 acres in Pennsylvania and
New York, and has plans to file necessary permits to drill more
horizontal Marcellus Shale wells throughout the region, according
to the company.

According to its MSDS, Airfoam HD is an all-purpose,
air-drilling surfactant that foams in fresh water, brine and the
presence of oil. It is also used to unload water from gas wells to
increase gas production.

The substance is highly biodegradable, according to the sheet,
and has a half-life of 4.5 minutes in fresh water and 1.5 minutes
in a solution of brine and crude oil.

The MSDS suggests those who get the substance on their skin or
eyes should flush with plenty of water for at least 15 minutes.

Categories: Pennsylvania – Jeff Mulhollem

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