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Q & A from Natural Gas Resource Center

Potter County Natural Gas Resource Center (NGRC) hosted a public meeting on Dec. 17, 2015, to present information on many ongoing issues and developments. Among speakers were representatives of the Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) and JKLM Energy LLC, who discussed details of a September 2015 pollution incident at a gas well drilling site in Sweden Township. A number of questions submitted in writing could not be addressed due to time constraints. Responses are being posted below as we receive them.

Q. Will JKLM return to the well site and resume operations?

A. A company spokesman confirmed this month that the well has been plugged. In view of the geologic characteristics revealed as a result of this incident, JKLM has no plans to drill any wells in that area.

Q. Would Coudersport Borough consider running a water line out North Hollow Road to give residents from that area an alternative?

A. Those in the area who reside outside of the borough and are served by private water supplies would have to approach Eulalia Township to request service from the borough. It would be up to the Eulalia Township Board of Supervisors to make any such request to Coudersport Water Authority

Q. Who controls the Natural Gas Resource Center?

A. NGRC was started by the Potter County Commissioners as a successor to the Potter County Natural Gas Task Force. It's directed by an advisory board consisting of: Jim Clark, Al Haney, Curt Weinhold, Bryan Phelps, Terry Cole, John McLaughlin, Joe Pagano, Chris Mitterer, Potter County Commissioners Susan Kefover, Doug Morley and Paul Heimel, and representatives of the Potter County Education Council.

Q. Is there any indication when Coudersport Borough will resume using the East Coudersport water supply that was shut off after the borough learned about the incident in September?

A. The borough is still working on returning the East wells to service. This is a methodical process that is coordinated with the Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection. There will be public use of these wells until test results conducted over an extended period of time are completed and continue to show that there has been no contamination. Assuming the test results continue to come back clean, the wells may be able to return to service by mid-January.

Q. Where can I get a copy of the slide show presentation by the team from DEP at the Dec. 17 meeting? Click here.

Q. JKLM said it was plugging the well. Is this company going to leave Potter County because the geology is so risky?

A. Not likely. In a news release issued from the company's headquarters in Wexford, Pa., spokesman David Mashek reported: "We are committed to responsible development of natural gas in Potter County, even in these economic times. JKLM has invested in excess of $100 million in Potter County over the last few years, much of it paid directly to landowners who, in turn, disperse that investment throughout the community."

Q. How much more gas drilling will these energy companies be allowed to do on state forest land in Potter County?

A. Since the state doesn't own the mineral rights on a high percentage of state forest, park and game lands, it's impossible to forecast energy production activities on the approximately 280,000 state-owned acres. Drilling can be prohibited on acreage where the state owns both surface and mineral rights, but if a company owns or leases the mineral rights, the state cannot legally prohibit it from drilling.

Q. One of the slides you showed pointed out all of the gas wells in different parts of the state. What are the numbers? Will Potter County have that same level of drilling eventually?

A. A state report shows that there are 40 "active wells," in Potter County, ranking 21st among all counties. The definition does not necessarily mean they are producing natural gas - just that they have been drilled and are capable to deliver to the marketplace. Washington County now has the most active wells with 1,146. Rounding out the "Sweet Six" counties are Bradford, 1,097; Susquehanna, 1,079; Greene, 870; Lycoming, 832; and Tioga, 661. Northeastern Pennsylvania was initially the hotbed for shale gas drilling from 2008 to 2010. Since that time, the action frenzy has shifted to the state's southwestern region. Once the gas prices rise and pipelines are laid, much more activity is expected statewide. Companies forecast that Potter County will see considerable drilling when conditions are right.

Q. Why doesn't Sweden Township shut down gas drilling to protect its residents' water supplies?

A. There are limitations on municipalities when it comes to regulating an industry, particularly if that township or borough has not adopted a zoning ordinance. The extent to which a township can restrict or limit an industrial activity or particular land use is now before state appellate courts. Citizens who would like to share their opinions on local government issues have the opportunity during the public business meetings of the township's Board of Supervisors.

Q. What is the Pennsylvania Department of Health doing about this?

A. According to Barry Miller, epidemiology research associate with DOH's Division of Environmental Health Epidemiology, "DOH continues to closely monitor this situation, since first reported to our department on Sept. 24, 2015. A collaborative effort is ongoing with DEP, which includes review of all available well water test reports from this incident, collected by DEP. Our environmental health team, including the state toxicologist, carefully examine these reports. In addition to these actions, DOH has remained available to investigate all health complaints from individuals affected by this incident. According to DEP, data collection from this incident is ongoing and all such data will be shared with the DOH for review. Please be assured that the DOH will continue to monitor this incident and respond to all health related concerns." Miller said those with questions or concerns should call 717-787-3350.

Q. Will DEP make the safety data sheets for F-485 and Rock Oil available to the public?

A. Yes. They are public information. Click for SDS F-485 and SDS Rock Oil.

Q. What are the specific ingredients of F-485, Rock Oil and/or other friction reducers? Do any of these chemicals accumulate in the liver or otherwise damage organs?

A. Click for MSDS F-485 and MSDS Rock Oil. Some health-related information is provided on the attached MSDS for the specific products. DEP refers any specific health-related questions to the Pa. Dept. of Health, which was made aware of this release in the early stages of DEP's response.

Q. What kind of fines will JKLM have to pay?

A. That will not be determined for many months, following a lengthy investigation and continued remediation at the site and affected areas. DEP has issued a Notice of Violation to JKLM for violation of Oil and Gas regulations, including failure to prevent pollution of fresh groundwater; and for drilling through fresh groundwater with a substance other than air, freshwater or freshwater-based drilling fluids. A second Notice of Violation cites the company for unpermitted discharge of a polluting substance, in violation of Pennsylvania's Clean Streams Law.

Q. Has a similar incident happened before in Pennsylvania?

A. According to DEP, since the 2009 establishment of the Oil and Gas Office in Williamsport, covering the eastern half of the state, two prior incidents were investigated involving the use of a drilling additive causing contamination of water resources.

Q. Will JKLM Energy LLC be permitted to continue its gas-drilling activities in Pennsylvania?

A. JKLM is permitted to continue activities, subject to all applicable laws and regulations.

Q. How will future homeowners with affected water supplies be notified of this incident and the risk they face?

A. According to DEP, the affected wells no longer exceed standards. As an added security, they are being supplied with treatment systems. DEP says no future exposure from the released is expected to occur.

Q. Were there any changes in pH of affected wells?

A. No changes in pH have been detected in any of the wells beyond normal variations.

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