by Melissa Troutman, Executive Director, Public Herald
this story is part of an ongoing report and will be updated frequently
UPDATED 12:11pm (9/25/15): includes audio and video from meeting on 9/24/15 with JKLM and reports from DEP including their first response.
UPDATED 1:03pm (9/25/15): includes anonymous DEP Borough of Water Quality Source information, and confirms no official notification has been sent by DEP to the public.
UPDATED 3:00pm (9/25/15): response to JKLM claims in press release and description of Isopropanol use in fracking.
UPDATED 5:30pm (9/27/15): timeline of JKLM problems, resident complaints and DEP response confirmed and published. Discussion with area residents affected and canvassed by Public Herald added to report. Toxicity of Isopropyl alcohol (Isopropanol).
UPDATED 3:14pm (9/30/15): Material Data Safety Sheet (MSDS) for f-485 surfactant obtained by Public Herald that contains Isopropanol is included in report. After further investigation JKLM released a new estimate that 98 gallons of the surfactant was injected, rather than the original report of 53 gallons. A photograph is added of foam collected in a jar from the North Hollow tributary by local residents. JKLM’s press contact refused to listen to or answer questions from Public Herald and hung up the phone. The phone call is transcribed and provided in the report for review. DEP published an official press release for North Hollow on September 30th that’s included.
CORRECTION (9/25/15): the original report on September 24th stated Matt “Nuff” from DEP responded to a resident, but his name is Matt Nuss.
Two public drinking water systems have been impacted and at least seven private water supplies contaminated due to ongoing pollution from a natural gas fracking operation run by JKLM Energy in Potter County, Pennsylvania.
An emergency public meeting occurred September 24th at 4PM at the Gunzburger Building in downtown Coudersport to inform the public. Public Herald was the only press agency at the meeting.
“It’s worse than we thought,” stated one local official who wishes to remain anonymous.
This is the first time that public water supplies have been impacted to the point of being shut down due to potential groundwater contamination from unconventional oil and gas operations. The chemical JKLM Energy injected underground to retrieve a lost drill bit has been detected in the aquifer within the recharge zone for the public drinking water supplies — which are outlined in the Triple Divide Watershed Coalition source water protection plan. After further investigation JKLM released a new estimate that 98 gallons of the surfactant was injected, rather than the original report of 53 gallons.
According to JKLM, between September 15th and 17th a broken drill bit was lost and retrieved from 570 feet down their Reese Hollow well. The company ended up using an illegal chemical during that stage of the drilling process in order to recover the lost drill bit. (This depth was changed by JKLM energy to 708 feet down at a later meeting.)
By September 19th two residents living 800 feet from JKLM’s well site reported foamy drinking water at their private water supplies, later described as “soap” by the company. About 72 hours later, two more residents reported foamy water 9,000 feet away from JKML’s operation.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) responded on September 21st — three days after residents reported foaming drinking water.
By September 24th an emergency public meeting was held by JKLM in downtown Coudersport (Pa.) and a sixth resident reported water problems at that time. Although, very few residents from the impacted area were at the meeting.
Public Herald reached out to residents in the area who reported that they were unaware of the meeting or that it was public so they did not attend. JKLM announced at the meeting that water buffalos (large water replacement containers) were being provided to the first five private water well owners.
JKLM also made clear they have hired Penn E&R from Mansfield, Pa. to test 60 private water wells up to 2.5 miles away from the Reese Hollow Well Pad, including the Hershey pond Public Herald photographed 2.8 miles from the site.
Following the emergency meeting on Septemeber 24th, JKLM opened a Community Outreach Office on 200 N. West St. in Coudersport to handle concerns and distribute bottled water. The office hours are 9:00am to 7:00pm Monday through Friday. Additional contact information is available on the “North Hollow Response” website recently launched by JKLM (http://www.northhollowresponse.com/home.html).
Most recent test results show the chemical Isopropanol JKLM
poured injected into an uncased well bore at 570ft has been detected in one of six residential water supplies at 15ppm (parts per million). Isopropanol is listed as a corrosion inhibitor by the FracFocus Chemical Disclosure Registry and commonly used in hydraulic fracturing. Although, JKLM has been denying its connection to fracking and referring to it mainly as a “soap” surfactant and a substance unlikely to be harmful due to dilution. (For more about the chemicals detected in water supplies please review story 5 of this series.)
Isopropanol has a health and fire rating of 2, meaning “moderate,” according to the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) obtained by Public Herald from Colorado well drilling data meant to be on hand for workers.
Statements released by JKLM following the emergency meeting have gone after Public Herald’s reports, “A second claim, that the chemical involved in this incident is “typically used for fracking infiltrated shallow and subsurface groundwater aquifers” is also inaccurate. This natural gas well was not being hydraulically fractured, and these surfactants are commonly used when developing wells on compressed air during the early stages of drilling.”
On September 27th JKLM released the following press release:
“As of September 26, 2015, JKLM Energy, LLC has received a total of 24 lab results from water sources near the Reese Hollow 118 wellpad…Isopropanol, the chemical of principal concern in regard to the release from the drill site, has been detected in only one water well, with a total of five wells confirmed with levels of methylene blue activated substances (MBAS), which are used to test for the presence of surfactants.”
Residents who spoke with Public Herald say they are still using their water to bathe, shower and cook despite potential toxic health effects of isopropanol — which include skin and respiratory irritation, gastrointestinal upset, and neurological symptoms such as dizziness. Residents also reported JKLM has not suggested they stop using their water for washing and cooking, even though some families have young children and isopropanol can be absorbed through the skin. JKLM has downplayed concerns about the chemical by pointing to dilution. However, the company has evacuated some residents to a hotel and offered rooms for others.
Public Herald was onsite, and can confirm that water in two ponds 2.8 miles down the valley from the Reese Hollow well had a white tint and haze. The local residents said they noticed the ponds turned white on September 22nd (Tuesday), and vegetation in the pond hasn’t died, but lost surface tension, and in some places has slipped underwater. The water in the ponds is characteristic to drinking water complaints called into JKLM.
After heavy rains on September 30th local residents observed ‘foaming’ water in ditches and along the North Hollow tributary downhill from the Reese Hollow site. The area received its first rainfall since the JKLM chemical injection occurred around September 15th. In some cases, foam observed by residents can be naturally occurring as leaves release a type of surfactant when they break down.
DISTANCE FROM REESE HOLLOW WELL PAD TO POND POLLUTION
Google maps shows the ponds that turned white after the Reese Hollow well pad incident are 2.8 miles from the site. © Save Our Streams PA
One week after DEP received notice of this incident, there’s still no official public notification to residents issued by the Department or the Coudersport Borough Water System. However, DEP is only required to notify the public once contamination has been detected. Without a precautionary principle in place for future problems by either local officials or the state, the public is left to find out about an incident only after DEP confirms they’ve detected pollution, but not at the point of the Department being notified of the chemical injection by the operator.
On September 30th DEP published an official press release for North Hollow: “The Notice of Violation includes: Failure to prevent pollution of fresh groundwater; Drilling through fresh groundwater with a substance other than air, freshwater or freshwater based drilling fluids; and Violations of Pennsylvania’s Clean Streams Law.”
Public Herald confirmed on the morning of September 24th after receiving an anonymous tip that the Coudersport Boro Water System had taken the “east” drinking water source offline in order to “keep the public safe” after chemicals typically used for drilling and fracking infiltrated shallow and subsurface groundwater aquifers in the recharge of the public water supply.
HERSHEY POND POLLUTION BELOW NORTH HOLLOW NOTICED SEPTEMBER 21st
In what appears contradictory to protocol, DEP informed local residents that any additional complaints should be called in to JKLM Energy. “The company is responsible, so they’ll handle your problems,” DEP field staff Matt Nuss told one resident over the phone.
Charles Cole Memorial Hospital, which maintains its own public water supply serving the hospital, a nursing home and several residential properties in the surrounding village to an estimated total of 600 people, has also stopped using its water and switched to a backup water source provided by Coudersport Borough Water Authority. Phone calls to the hospital were not returned.
The Coudersport Borough Water Authority and the hospital water supply comprise three significant drinking water sources for the Boro. After the JKLM drilling incident in Reese Hallow, the Boro is now left sourcing water through one system.
Timeline and map of PADEP fracking complaint investigations for Potter County collected by Public Herald. Read full “cooked” complaint report. The JKLM North Hallow problems were initially reported by citizen complaints according to local sources. © Public Herald
According to residents and Boro officials, the Boro has not informed local water consumers about the contamination or any changes made to the public water supply. “We’re waiting for test results to inform the public,” Boro Manager Beverly Morris told one resident.
Charles Cole Hospital is a critical access and nonprofit hospital that signed a lease to frack on hospital property in early 2015. The hospital and its board made no public statements regarding the potential environmental and public health risks associated with unconventional horizontal, high-pressure hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking.
JKLM Energy is a young company based in Sewickley whose owner, Terry Pegula, sold the former East Resources for $4.6 billion and then purchased the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres. East Resources operations in 2010 had led to events that demanded quarantine of cattle after contamination in northcentral Pennsylvania. “Pennsylvania Land Trust Association did a study on the environmental impact of natural gas drilling and found that East Resources Management LLC ranked first among about 45 drillers cited for violations during that period, with 138 violations at 140 wells.” Key employees of East Resources, such as Scott Blauvelt, are now heading up operations for JKLM Energy in Potter County.
In September ’15 Public Herald published a report on drinking water complaints that included a map of all the records for Tioga County. The story included an interview with the first complaint in Delmar Twp. who claimed East Resources contaminated their drinking water.
Public Herald has published extensively about the DEP’s negligence in allowing fracking companies to handle their own water contamination investigations. Last week, Public Herald published a 30-month investigation that found nine ways DEP keeps water pollution related to fracking “off the books,” leaving residents to fend for themselves. The report includes the release of 2,309 DEP investigation files which are mapped by county and township at PublicFiles.org.
DEP maintains 24 hr. phone for dispatching response personnel to emergency and incidents. To report an incident in Potter County, residents can call DEP Northcentral at 570-327-3636.
Joshua B. Pribanic, Editor-in-Chief at Public Herald, contributed to this report
MELISSA TROUTMAN: Hello Dave, this is Melissa Troutman from Public Herald. How Are you?
JKLM: Hi Melissa I really don’t have any comment for you. I’m sorry.
MELISSA TROUTMAN: Oh, I have a series of…
JKLM: I’m gonna decline comment. Anything that is on our…to be distributed in those updates you’re free to use.
MELISSA TROUTMAN: I actually have questions. I’m not looking for comment. I’m looking for answers to questions.
JKLM: No! I’m not providing answers to questions. We’re going to decline comment.
MELISSA TROUTMAN: Alright. Your community liaison also had no answers to questions. Such as, “Who is the toxicologist you used…Is the inventory material…[cut off by JKLM].”
JKLM: Melissa. Thank you for your call. I appreciate it but I’m not going to answer any questions. Thank you. Goodbye.
MELISSA TROUTMAN: Is there someone I can talk to you…[phone hangs up]