More than two weeks after a natural gas well began spewing fracking wastewater in Wyoming County, some residents who were evacuated from their homes are still using bottled water.
The accident, which remains under investigation, began on the evening of March 13 at a well north of Tunkhannock in Washington Township. More than a quarter million gallons of highly pressurized fracking wastewater came out of the well before it was successfully capped the following afternoon.
At one point, it was gushing 800 gallons a minute. The wastewater – which the industry calls “flowback” – is typically very high in salt, has chemical additives, and may contain radioactive material.
The state Department of Environmental Protection says it’s conducted air and water quality testing.
“Most of the fluid was contained,” says DEP spokeswoman Colleen Connolly, “Some of it went into shallow groundwater, but we don’t know if it left behind any contamination.”
Paul Ruhf’s home is about 300 yards from the well pad site. He and his family were evacuated to a nearby hotel during the incident.
The family is still using bottled water for drinking, but Ruhf says he’s using his well water for cooking and bathing.
Based on preliminary testing from a lab, he doubts there is a problem.
“[The water] smells fine and looks fine. I think the risk is very low,” says Ruhf, “I haven’t heard anything back from DEP, but I know it takes a little while.”
The DEP did air and water quality sampling on March 14 and 15, and then again this past week.
“We’re waiting for results,” says Connolly.
The site operator, Carrizo Marcellus, is headquartered in Texas and has drilled 85 wells in Pennsylvania since 2009. The company is prohibited from resuming fracking operations until the root cause of the accident can be determined.
DEP records show Carrizo has been fined four times and paid more than $113,000 dollars in penalties for infractions ranging from mishandling waste to record-keeping.