Chesapeake Fixes Water Well After Blowout to “Be a Good Neighbor”

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Chesapeake Energy Helps Pennsylvania Afford Study of Natural Gas Blowout

Well Incident Shares Anniversary with BP Gulf Spill, Both Failed Wellheads Manufactured by Cameron International

An out of focus photograph of the well pad in Tioga State Forest, that highlights the difficulty in bringing subjects about natural gas into focus when the Department of Environmental Protection ignores questions from the press about the topic. photo: Joshua B. Pribanic

According to Chesapeake Energy (CHK) and its consultant SAIC, the company is not responsible for an undrinkable residential water well it spent approximately $25,000 to seal and install a treatment system for after a natural gas well blowout at Chesapeake’s Atgas 2H well pad in Bradford County, Pennsylvania.

Chesapeake Energy’s Stephanie Timmermeyer told Public Herald during a conference call on November 18, 2011 that the company sealed the bottom fracture zone and installed a reverse osmosis water filtration system on a nearby residential water well, after the Atgas 2H incident occurred, in order “to be a good neighbor.”

Podcast discussing part of the interview:

[audio: http://publicherald.podbean.com/mf/web/i87sg2/chesapeake_energy_atgas2h_blowout_podcast.mp3]

Timmermeyer stated, “It was pretty clear that this water quality was always at this state and it was just something that we offered to do and agreed to take care of.” The ‘state’ of the resident’s water well included high levels of various salts and methane. The SAIC report claims that “historical information” was used to determine that the well’s condition had always been stratified, with concentrated salt deposits holding near the bottom of the well.

Timmermeyer added that the company only fixes neighboring water wells that it has not impacted on a case-by-case basis.

Previous Experience

Timmermeyer is Chesapeake’s Director of Regulatory Affairs in the Appalachian Basin. During the conference call with Public Herald, Chesapeake highlighted her “public service” as a former Cabinet Secretary in West Virginia.

Marshall County, WV is where Chesapeake Energy was cited by the EPA in 2011 for two years of polluting waters and for filling in a stream to build on top of it the “Pleasant Ridge Compressor Station.” Timmermeyer is copied in EPA’s correspondence to Chesapeake Energy regarding the matter.

U.S. EPA cites Chesapeake for 2 years of discharging pollutants into waterways in West Virginia.

Failed Wellheads by Cameron

Chesapeake’s representatives told Public Herald that the water well repaired, of those studied by SAIC, was the farthest away from the natural gas well where the “well control incident” most recently referred to by Chesapeake as a “pressure control event” occurred during hydraulic fracturing around midnight of April 20, 2011, on the one year anniversary of the Gulf Oil Spill.

Chesapeake blames the ‘well control incident’ on a failed flange in the wellhead manufactured by Cameron International, the same manufacturer of the blowout preventor (BOP) that failed to prevent BP’s oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico exactly one year before.

No further clarification was given regarding the BOP and its manufacturer’s relationship to the BP spill in the gulf.

Variations on a Word – ‘Independent’

Michael Kehs, Vice President of Strategic Affairs and Public Relations at Chesapeake Energy, confirmed during the conference call that it considers SAIC to be “independent.” SAIC is a member of the gas industry’s Marcellus Shale Coalition and shares a member of its Board of Directors with Chesapeake: Louis A. Simpson sits on the Board of Directors for both Chesapeake and SAIC.

Kehs explained that SAIC is considered “independent” because “[t]hey are an organization with a excellent global as well as US reputation that do a number of studies in this area, so their expertise and they’re ability to do it has been established under previous work that they’ve done, and we had to have someone do the work.”

Kehs went on to explain that the state of Pennsylvania would never have paid for a such a study. “Somebody had to step up and pay experts to get this work done, so that our neighbors could know exactly what was the condition of their water and that the state could know exactly what was the impact of the event,” he said.

Requests for comment from Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which regulates gas drilling in the state, were not answered. Public Herald is submitting a right-to-know to the DEP regarding questions gathered from last month’s file review, and Chesapeake’s interview.

You (Don’t) Break It, You Buy It

According to Environmental Engineer and Hydrogeologist Bob Haag, it sometimes behoves a company to fix a problem it didn’t create “to prevent harm from coming to people during a period of uncertainty,” to achieve positive publicity, or ” to be a genuine Good Samaritan.”

Chesapeake spent around $4 million on an environmental assessment of soil, sediment, and surface groundwater in the area around the blowout.

The SAIC study found “no adverse impacts to local water wells or the environment.” On the phone with Public Herald, Timmermeyer clarified that this didn’t include various dead earthworms, salamanders, and tadpoles found immediately after the incident on the banks of tributaries and in a nearby pond.

Timmermeyer added, “We certainly didn’t spend that kind of money and do the kind of sampling we did because we thought that the incident warranted it by any means, instead it was because of the national media attention that this particular incident received.”

High Waters Carry Waste ‘Downstream’

When asked where the approximately 10,000 gallons of flowback reportedly ended up, Chesapeake’s representatives replied “downstream”.

Pennsylvania was experiencing record rainfalls when flowback, the Atgas 2H waste, spilled over the containment areas (sections built by Chesapeake to capture what would spill over if a wellhead failed or fluids might runoff a well pad). According to Chesapeake, the ground was so saturated already with rain that almost none of the toxic waste was absorbed. It did, however, make its way into an unnamed tributary of Towanda Creek, which rests entirely on privately owned land.

This is an ongoing investigation into how natural gas pollution is being handled in the state of Pennsylvania. Previous reports can be read by keyword searching ‘chesapeake blowout’ in public herald’s website.