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Company drops plans to remove water tanks from Franklin Forks homes

Franklin Forks resident Tammy Manning with her granddaughter. WPX Energy dropped plans to remove water tanks it installed for the Mannings and a neighbor.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Franklin Forks resident Tammy Manning with her granddaughter. WPX Energy dropped plans to remove water tanks it installed for the Mannings and a neighbor.

A natural gas drilling company has decided to donate water tanks to two Susquehanna County families after its plan to remove the water supplies attracted attention and criticism.

WPX Energy Inc. announced Friday that it had dropped plans to take back the tanks from the homes in Franklin Forks, according to the Associated Press. The company installed the tanks at three homes in early 2012 while state regulators and the company investigated the cause of high levels of methane, salt and metals in the families’ well water.

The state Department of Environmental Protection concluded this year that drilling was not to blame for the foul water, which is known to occur naturally in the region at a salt spring a mile and a half away. The residents have appealed that finding and sued the company.

On Saturday, Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former DEP secretary John Hanger said DEP had agreed to reopen its investigation to consider new data about the water wells.

WPX got a court order to remove the tanks from two homes next week after protestors blocked the company’s first attempt. The company already removed a tank from a third home.

More from the AP:

WPX announced its change of course Friday afternoon, hours after Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former DEP secretary John Hanger criticized plans to remove the water tanks. Hanger said in a letter to Republican Gov. Tom Corbett and Environmental Secretary Chris Abruzzo that the DEP should reopen its investigation into the contamination.

[WPX spokeswoman Susan] Oliver said the decision to donate the buffaloes had been in the works all week and that Hanger’s letter had nothing to do with it.

Hanger said the company’s initial plan to remove the tanks was the wrong move, especially given the holiday season.

“This is exactly the kind of arrogant, inhumane behavior that is creating widespread condemnation of the gas industry. To leave those families a week before Christmas without any water source takes my breath away,” he told the AP earlier Friday.

The company tried to work with the Mannings and the other residents to help them get their wells fixed, Oliver said. But she said out-of-state anti-drilling activists have exploited them for their own political ends.

“If it wasn’t for the activists yelling and screaming, we could have helped that family fix the mechanics of their well,” she said.

The company also faced criticism from environmental and investor groups who said the plan to pull the water tanks “risks positioning WPX as a corporation that is not concerned with the well-being or basic human needs of residents living near its operations.”

Hanger called for DEP to reopen its investigation in Franklin Forks based on new data gathered by an Ohio State University scientist that he said indicates that the contamination in the water wells is the result of nearby gas drilling.

A DEP spokesman said in an email Friday that Secretary Abruzzo directed DEP’s oil and gas program to “reach out to Mr. Hanger immediately” to learn more about the data. “DEP has extensive knowledge of this matter,” DEP spokesman Eric Shirk said, “and we will review any new information promptly.”

In a press release Saturday, Hanger said a DEP official called him to say that the agency will reopen its investigation.

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