2019-01-12 / Front Page

JKLM blunder comment deadline nears

A public comment period closes Tuesday, Jan. 15, on the findings of a federal investigation into the JKLM Energy environmental violations at a Potter County shale gas well in September 2015.

A contractor for JKLM injected chemicals into an open well bore at a Reese Hollow well pad, just off North Hollow Road/Burrows Road, in an attempt to retrieve a drill bit. Sampling by the Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) and JKLM confirmed the injected chemicals and other naturally occurring contaminants were present in drinking water supplies near the site. Initially, 17 residents in Sweden and Eulalia townships complained of private drinking water impacts. More than 100 individual water sources were then sampled. DEP ultimately determined that six were impacted by the JKLM release. As a precautionary measure, the company provided alternate water sources and has since installed treatment systems on the affected water supplies.

The federal government’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) accepted a petition to review the water sampling data to determine if exposure could harm people’s health. A copy of the 60-page report is available at a website, atsdr.cdc.gov. More information is available from Robert Helverson at 215-814-3139, or Lora Werner at 215-814- 3141.

ATSDR listed its “key findings” in a summary. They appear to show that naturally occurring contaminants found in the affected water supplies were present long before the gas well incident. Specifically, the agency reported:

--Isopropanol (a liquid alcohol released by JKLM) was detected in three private wells, high enough in one of them to be of temporary health concern from inhalation (but not ingestion) during household water use, such as showering.

--People who consumed water with naturally occurring contaminants including bromide, iron, lead, lithium, manganese or sodium may be at risk for harmful noncancer health effects associated with these chemicals. Health effects are not expected from exposures to all other chemicals assessed in the contamination zone.

--Biological contamination (i.e., fecal coliform, E. coli) was found in 31 water sources that were tested. Drinking water containing fecal coliform can cause severe illness and serious infections with symptoms including, but not limited to, bloody diarrhea, stomach cramps, fever and vomiting.

ATSDR recommends that private well owners take steps to reduce exposure to bacteria and other contaminants not related to the JKLM incident.

The agency also recommends that drillers and state regulators develop site-specific procedures that protect the public from exposure to chemicals injected into open boreholes.

For its part, JKLM has moved on and drilled more than a dozen new wells in Potter County, pursuing shale gas to meet supply contracts.

DEP fined the company $472,000. A separate $100,000 penalty, administered by the county, has been used to install 24/7 monitors on 11 public water supplies across Potter County. These are logging water quality data and serve as an early-warning system in the event of contamination.

DEP also said that, as a precautionary measure, four public water supply wells operated by the Coudersport Borough Water Authority and UPMC Cole Hospital were sampled and monitored. No contamination was detected.

The well pad where the pollutant was injected has been shut down and retired. Four groundwater monitoring wells have shown no residual impacts and monitoring of the affected private wells continues to show no contamination.

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