Group objects to gas well planned near former hazardous waste site
A natural gas well pad planned for the edge of a former hazardous waste landfill in Susquehanna County has alarmed members of a group that has monitored the site for decades.
Southwestern Energy Production Co. has received a permit to construct a well pad on the former Lyncott Corp. landfill property in New Milford Twp. and has applied for a permit to drill the first of six to eight Marcellus Shale wells planned for the pad. The landfill was closed in the 1980s after 10 acres of the 192-acre property were used for decades to dispose of industrial chemicals without proper containment. It is monitored by federal and state environmental regulators for arsenic, manganese and lead contamination that has stabilized but continues to leach into the groundwater there.
Now a group with a legal stake in the site's cleanup is mounting a letter-writing campaign to try to stop state regulators from issuing the drilling permit.
RESCUE of Susquehanna County member Sandra Babuka said she was alerted to the drilling proposal by a Department of Environmental Protection staff member who suggested she might want to object to the planned well.
Hazardous material is contained in cement bunkers buried at the site and Babuka said she is concerned about the effects of vibration from drilling, hydraulic fracturing and heavy truck traffic on the aging containers.
The planned well pad "is right on the fence line, which is just as bad as going right in the middle of it," she said. "It could be half a mile or a mile away and it will still compromise that mountain."
Federal and state regulators signed off on the well location after they determined the pad will not impact the former landfill.
Southwestern's asset manager for the Appalachian region John Nicholas said the company found out that the landfill site was "going to be a sensitive area" during a conversation with a township official. The proposed well pad was later moved a few hundred feet from its planned location after months of consultation with state and federal regulators and township officials, including a site visit with about 20 regulators and company representatives on April 7, he said.
"Everything's been scouted, reviewed, moved, tweaked to fit everybody's desires," he said. "It's been signed off on by all these folks."
Kevin Bilash, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's project manager for the landfill cleanup, said he reviewed the proposal and visited the site "to make sure they don't drill through the landfill and expose hazardous waste."
There does not appear to be any impact on the former operations, he said.
DEP spokesman Daniel Spadoni said the well pad application was initially submitted as an expedited permit, but the application was "taken off the clock so it can be thoroughly reviewed." The department's oil and gas program also coordinated with the waste management program to review the plan.
The well pad's erosion control permit was granted on May 10. The drilling permit for the first well is under review, but the oil and gas program in Meadville has requested additional information from Southwestern, Spadoni said.
The agency has the authority to reject the permit "if we do not believe the activity can be accomplished within the requirements of our permit and applicable regulations," he said.
Asked why Southwestern selected the Lyncott site, Nicholas said the company, like all natural gas drillers operating in Pennsylvania, is restricted by the landscape in choosing where to place its pads.
"When you actually start searching for pad sites, you'll find that 90 percent of the area is either a hillside too steep to build on or a wetland," he said. "It really does limit your options."
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