An investigation is underway into why a natural gas well in Wyoming County began spewing highly pressurized fracking wastewater for hours last week.
More than a quarter million gallons came out of the well before it was successfully capped.
Paul Ruhf’s home is just 300 yards away from the gas well on the hillside, outside Tunkhannock, about 30 miles north of Wilkes-Barre.
When the spill was discovered, he spent the night in hotel with his wife and six-year-old daughter. Two other families were also evacuated over fears of a natural gas build up.
When he returned home, he found something waiting for him.
“On my porch was four cases of fresh water, if we didn’t want to use the water that we had for drinking, for now.”
The drill operator, Carrizo Marcellus, has agreed to provide the evacuees with bottled water until testing can be completed. The company has also said they’ll provide water testing to anyone in the neighborhood who asks for it.
Ruhf says he’s watched relatives have bad experiences with a different drilling company.
“[They] contaminated their water. Never admitted they did it. Said that they had nothing to do with it and totally fought them tooth and nail until they ended up having to move out of their home and find a different place.”
But he was pleased with how Carrizo handled this situation.
“We were gonna request to have our water tested for the next several months- already done.”
The incident happened just as crews were wrapping up the final stages of a fracking operation last week, when a piece of equipment malfunctioned.
Fracking wastewater began spraying out of the well. At one point, it was gushing at 800 gallons a minute.
The wastewater – which the industry calls “flowback” is typically very high in salt, has chemicals additives, and may contain radioactive material.
Tom Caines, a volunteer firefighter, lives about half a mile from the well pad. He wasn’t in the area when the accident happened, but overhead it was contained on his scanner. Caines says he feels safe in his house, but did try an experiment to make sure.
“Just to entertain myself, I put a lighter up and ran the water for 2-3 minutes and chuckled a little to myself and said, ‘Yeah, we’re good.’ There’s no methane gas in our water.”
Some methane gas did leak out of the well and some water made its way onto an access road, according to the state Department of Enviromental Protection (DEP) But so far, its air and water quality testing haven’t show any problems.
The site operator, Carrizo Marcellus, is headquartered in Texas and has drilled 85 wells in Pennsylvania since 2009.
DEP records show the company has been fined four times and paid more than $113,000 dollars in penalties for infractions ranging from mishandling waste to record-keeping. Agency spokeswoman Colleen Conolly says it’s unclear whether the Tunkhannock spill will lead to a fine.
“We’re gonna look at this incident separately, in it of itself, to see exactly what happened. Then if we look back and if it’s similar to the other incidents where they were fined, then that would play out into how we would handle this particular incident, whether we cite them or we’ll fine them.”
According to Carrizo, the flowback was contained and most of it will remain on the site. The wastwater could be recycled and used to frack the well again, if and when the DEP allows normal operations to resume.
The agency plans to do more testing later this week.