Federal Environmental Review Board Rejects Warren County Disposal Well Permit

  • Susan Phillips

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

An abandoned well from the early 1900's spews oil into the Tamarack Swamp. The Environmental Appeals Board rejected the petitioner's claim that abandoned wells such as this one would provide a pathway for waste water to reach drinking water supplies.

The federal Environmental Appeals Board has told EPA, Region 3, they must redo their analysis regarding proposed frack water disposal wells in Warren County. The EPA had granted a permit to Bear Lake Properties to convert two former natural gas wells into disposal wells. The proposal would send the waste water from natural gas drilling operations back down into a formation called the Medina Whirlpool Sands. Only five such disposal wells exist in Pennsylvania. But two residents of the area filed an appeal to the Board. Bill Peiffer and Tom Stroup filed  a petition for review regarding six issues. The Board rejected all but one.
In its decision, released on Monday, the Board said EPA officials with Region 3, based in Philadelphia, did an inadequate job in surveying the drinking water wells in the area. After a public comment period, the EPA heard from residents who named additional drinking water wells that were not listed in Bear Lake Properties’ original application. The EPA told the company to redo the assessment. But the appeals board agreed with petitioners Peiffer and Stroup, saying the two studies revealed inconsistencies and raised significant questions about the integrity of the EPA’s analysis.
The board rejected all of the other issues, including the petitioners’ claim of about 70 undocumented abandoned wells in the area that could serve as conduits for the frack water to pollute drinking water supplies. The Board concluded that the EPA has complied with the regulations regarding pressure and monitoring requirements at the wellhead, which they say would prevent migration of fluid up any unknown abandoned well.

“EPA has also required in the proposed permits monitoring of the fluid level in the injection zone during injection operations to ensure that pressure created by the injection operation will not cause migration of fluid up abandoned wells that could exist. By monitoring fluid level, and making sure that it remains safely below the lowermost USDW, then even if an abandoned well were to exist ( i.e., a well that might have been drilled in the past without having information of public record), the monitoring would detect and prevent fluid migration into the lowermost USDW.”

The wells sit near the Tamarack Swamp, in Northwestern Pennsylvania, just across from the New York state border. Bill Peiffer and Tom Stroup are concerned that the disposal wells will pollute the swamp and drinking water supplies.
The decision means EPA Region 3 needs to revisit the permit, conduct a new assessment of the drinking water wells in the area, and open up the permits to a new public comment period.