Thursday, September 3, 2009 4:05 AM EDT
DEP gets tough questions Wednesday night
By ADAM VOSLER, Era Reporter
Hedgehog Lane residents made it clear to Department of Environmental Protection officials Wednesday that their water and quality-of-life problems due to recent oil drilling are far from solved.
About 20 residents and Bradford Township Supervisors Chairman Don Cummins gathered at the Lions Club community building to ask tough questions of four DEP representatives who made the trip to provide an update on the issues and answer concerns. State Rep. Martin Causer, R-Turtlepoint, also attended the meeting, the second of its kind in recent weeks.
“I’m sure this has dragged on longer than you would’ve liked it to,” Regional Director Kelly Burch said of the problems, for which DEP issued violation notices to Schreiner Oil and Gas for four overpressured oil wells and contamination to seven water wells.
“Gas migration cases are very difficult.”
Schreiner drilled nearly two dozen wells last fall. Since then, residents have complained of everything from poor water quality to odor, noise, oil lease access road runoff onto Hedgehog, and other issues.
“We think most of the problems are corrected,” Burch said.
Several residents took exception to that claim. Many of them said their water still has foul odor and abnormal taste, while DEP countered that the water passes the agency’s 18 parameters for safe drinking.
“The source of the gas has been abated,” said Craig Lobins, regional manager of DEP’s Oil & Gas Management Program.
The plant strips unwanted gas out of the gas product that is coming out of wells. The structures, residents say, are a hazard because of its propane tanks that were placed only a few hundred feet from homes; also, the compressor station is noisy and produces an odor.
So the residents were likely not happy to hear that DEP granted New Century Pipeline a permit for the plant a few weeks ago — months after the structure was already built without permission.
That company, which is under Schreiner partner Aiello Bros. Oil & Gas, is facing a yet-unscheduled Bradford Township Zoning Board hearing on grounds that it never filed for a zoning permit. The matter could end up in McKean County Court if the company appeals the zoning officer’s findings.
“We are obliged by law to issue the permit if they meet our standards,” said DEP Air Quality Coordinator John Guth.
Cummins complained that the permit shouldn’t have been issued if the plant was in violation of township zoning laws. New Century has also faced DEP fines because it never informed the agency of its building plans, either.
“They have been noncompliant since the day they started operating,” Burch acknowledged.
Hedgehog natives wondered aloud why their neighborhood has been slow to receive help and why repeated offenses by Schreiner have been tolerated.
“When people are acting like this over and over and over, that’s where my frustration lies,” one Hedgehog resident said.
“Why is it up to us to try and stop somebody else who’s obviously breaking the rules?” asked another resident.
Schreiner’s permits for the several remaining wells to be fractured are valid until spring. DEP would not deny him that right, but Lobins said the wells are nearly worthless at this point because they’ve been open for so long.
“I don’t know if (Schreiner’s) going to drill any more of those,” Lobins said.
DEP had ordered Schreiner to stop further oil and gas drilling on Hedgehog until the water supplies were “restored or replaced,” which they have done by supplying bottled water and redrilling water wells. Of course, that matters little to the residents who say their water is still coming up bad.
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Overall, it’s clear the residents are tiring of the water situation and what they believe is DEP’s negligence of obvious problems with its drinkability.
“I’ve lived there 21 years, and my water in the last year, it’s gone to crap,” said a man who identified himself as a resident of 177 Hedgehog Lane. Several residents cited the water as tasting “musty” and “old.”
A few visitors even questioned DEP reports they found online, saying the reports twisted what agents and residents said about their water’s poor odor and taste during recent visits.
Burch was swift in defending his staff.
“Many of my employees have a private well just like many of you … I know they wouldn’t tolerate it.”
After nearly two hours of back-and-forth between Cummins’ constituents and DEP officials, the supervisor boiled it down to one simple question.
“How do we get their water back to the way it was?” Cummins asked Burch.
As of today, the DEP does not seem to have an answer.
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