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Friday, March 4, 2016

Letter: When A Spill Is Not A Spill

Potter County residents will likely recall that back in September a serious pollution incident occurred when JKLM Energy was drilling at its Reese Hollow 118 well pad in Sweden Township.

As reported in The Leader Enterprise, JKLM representatives called a meeting with local and county officials to inform them that the company had been notified by several private well owners that their water showed impacts. 

Some of these complaints indicated that the recharge zone for both the hospital and Coudersport Borough’s east wells might also be impacted. Since the hospital and borough consume a great deal of water, shutting down the wells would prevent the contamination from being sucked into these critical water supplies. After meeting with JKLM, both hospital and borough officials agreed to turn off the wells as a precaution.

JKLM spokesmen at the September meeting took full responsibility for the contamination and apologized. They admitted that 98 gallons of surfactant, 35 gallons of rock oil, and approximately 21,500 gallons of water had been injected into an uncased well bore, which was still within the aquifer through which they were drilling. The operator in charge was trying to retrieve a drill bit that had become stuck in fractured rock 570 feet beneath the surface.They acknowledged that this action was in direct violation of DEP regulations intended to protect groundwater supplies.
Earlier this week DEP issued a press release stating that they had determined, after months of testing and a 72-hour “water draw” followed by additional testing, that the two public water supplies are safe to use. That’s a good thing.

But I am disappointed that the press release described the incident that led to the preventive measure to cut off those water supplies as a “spill at the wellpad.” There was no “spill,” and the contamination was certainly not confined to the well pad. 

“Spill at the well pad” was the same wording that JKLM had used repeatedly in their press releases after the September meeting. I expected as much from a company trying to protect its image, but not from the regulatory agency charged with protecting the environment and the welfare of our citizens.

At the county's Natural Gas Resource Center's meeting held in Coudersport in December, JKLM representatives and DEP officials spoke at length about their actions in response to this incident. DEP revealed that six private well owners had been “positively impacted.” They also asserted that their investigation was ongoing and would likely take time. So those of us who had been concerned about the lack of information in the months following the incident have been awaiting the Department’s findings and enforcement action with interest.

Does DEP’S use of the phrase “spill at the well pad” signal the Department’s own effort to downplay this incident? Has JKLM efectively earned forgiveness for their cooperation in the aftermath of the incident?
Does anyone care? In October and again in December, I had been told by county officials that very few people had contacted them with complaints or concerns about the incident. JKLM representatives also said that very few people had visited the office they had opened in town to receive complaints and note concerns.

I get that “accidents happen.” I get that there will be human error. But I don’t accept an incident being misrepresented five months later by the investigating agency. An intentional action is not an accident (or a “spill”), and, unfortunately, poor decision-making usually does have unintended consequences. The bigger the operation, the more damaging the consequences are likely to be. That’s why we have regulations.

Furthermore, if an operator chooses to ignore the regulations, there should be real penalties. Otherwise, what’s to prevent another operator in a similarly stressful situation from making the same poor choice?

Mary Anne Heston

CCNGD readers who are interested in learning more about this incident should refer to Laurie Barr's posts since September and also visit Public Herald's website and read their "Invisible Hand" articles by Melissa Troutman.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nothing like beating a dead horse.

Anonymous said...

You know the old saying. " Don't cry over spilled oil" or was it milk?.. Whatever.

Anonymous said...

some one has to do it... it's better than rolling over... I know I'm not ever drinking the water of in Coudy .. I get the feeling your just tired of it all and your giving up

Anonymous said...

I bet you could get a smokin` deal on a house in that hollow ! Every cloud has a silver lining.

Anonymous said...

6:20, could you translate that or be more specific. I don't understand what you are trying to say.

Anonymous said...

Dear God, now we're going to have a fit over a term given this incident?!?! Spill is used by nearly every operator and agency involved in an incident like this, it is not used to diminish the severity of this or any other incident.

6:20....good, don't the water in Coudy, that leaves more for the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like these women need a hobby, or better yet a JOB !

Anonymous said...

11:03:00 Are you kidding me? Go back to your cave please. Maybe all of you that think she is just "beating a dead horse" "don't cry over spilled oil" or is happy to have more Coudy water left for them should bring their kids or grandkids to drink one big glass each day of the water at the six "positively impacted" houses. Then get a sense of what the people who live there are experiencing. Also, do you think a home that has big water tanks in the garage and is dependent on JKLM (or whomever) delivering water indefinitely is going to have the same market value as before the "spill"?

Anonymous said...

Let's see.. You know that if you were someone that was actually impacted by this, you will file a lawsuit and win. (And you should) And just like the few in Dimmock that received $400,000 and kept their property,You too will take the money, stay right where you are,and laugh all the way to the bank just like they did. Funny how none of them used the money to get away from all that bad water. Amazing!

Anonymous said...

Where is her husband at? He needs to bring her under control. Crazy.