Plum residents, environmental groups oppose injection well

October 3, 2018
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State Department of Environmental Protection’s Oil and Gas Program’s Professional Geologist Manager Tom Donohue, center, explains the department’s permit process with DEP Oil and Gas Operations Program Manager Dan Counahan, left, and DEP Manager for Subsurface Permitting Brian Babb.

Some Plum residents and environmental groups hope the state Department of Environmental Protection denies a permit for a company to drill an injection well in Plum.

“Just because there’s more waste to deal with does not make our area suddenly suitable to be a dump for toxic liquid waste,” resident Matt Kelso said.

Penneco Environmental Solutions is seeking approval from the state to dispose of wastewater at the Sedat #3A natural gas well off of Old Leechburg Road.

The company already received permit approval from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, despite at least 200 people who opposed to the move at a public hearing in July 2017.

Kelso was one of 17 speakers at a public hearing hosted by DEP Monday evening at Oblock Junior High School. All who attended opposed the activity.

The project cannot move forward without DEP approval regardless of the federal permit.

The purpose of Monday’s hearing was to gather testimony only, DEP Environmental Community Relations Specialist Lauren Fraley explained.

Neither DEP nor Penneco officials fielded questions during the process.

Fraley said there is no time table for a response. However, gas company officials said they expect it to take between eight months and a year to get a ruling from DEP.

Once a decision has been made, the company or concerned citizens have 30 days to appeal it to the state’s Environmental Hearing Board.

Penneco COO Ben Wallace did offer an opening statement prior to public comment, during which he explained part of what the permit entailed.

“We cannot inject hazardous waste, nor can we inject any pipeline residual waste,” Wallace said. “Our permit is only to inject produced fluids, including frac flowback, and return them to a specific oil and gas formation, the Murrysville formation, which already contains fluids of this nature ... The permit prohibits us from fracturing or inducing fractures in the formation.”

He said the company studied multiple issues at the site including its geology and characteristics of the formation prior to deciding on repurposing the former gas well.

The conventional, non-shale well was first drilled in 1989 to a depth of 4,320 feet and extracted natural gas at three depths. The well was put out of service in 2015 due to low production and plugged to a depth of 1,940 feet directly below the Murrysville Sandstone injection zone, in accordance with DEP regulations.

That and more information about the site was included in EPA documents available in the school lobby for hearing attendees.

“The well is designed, from a physical perspective, to be inherently safe,” Wallace said.

The permit restricts the injection well’s intake of produced fluids to 54,000 barrels per month and requires Penneco to do mechanical integrity tests after completing construction of the well, according to EPA documents.

“This equates to approximately 19 truck traffic trips each day through Plum Borough, allowing for not only increased noise, but emissions of hazardous air pollutants,” said resident Kelly Yagatich, a member of Clean Air Council. She requested an independent third party do an analysis of the site to gauge the structural integrity of the well.

Resident Angela Billanti, president of Citizens 4 Plum, echoed those trucking concerns as well as pollution of ground and drinking water.

“I believe that the injection well is putting young people, young families and the environment at risk in Plum,” Billanti said.

About eight of the speakers cited earthquake concerns.

Studies have linked earthquakes to injection wells in Ohio and Oklahoma. In 2012, a rare 4.0 magnitude tremor struck near Youngstown, about an hour’s drive from Pittsburgh.

“Pennsylvania needs to learn from Ohio’s mistakes,” said Plum resident Matt Vento.

Wallace said the Plum site has several differences compared to those locations that prevent an earthquake being caused by the well.

“Oklahoma has a unique set of circumstances that do not exist here, geologically nor operationally,” he said. “Ohio’s got some issues. There are a variety of factors that cause seismic activity including rock strength, depth, volume and seismic tension,” he said. “The combination of those factors does not exist at this well.”

Resident Dan Laird implored DEP to extend public comment by 30 days so more people had time to give input and learn more about the permitting process.

Fraley said people can send written statements to DEP through Oct. 8. Submissions should be mailed to its Southwest Oil and Gas District offices at 400 Waterfront Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15222 or faxed to 412-442-4328.

Each statement must contain the name, address and telephone number of the sender as well as Sedat #3A as identification of the permit application.

Call 412-442-4203 or email lfraley@pa.gov for more information.

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