Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

EPA approves waste disposal well in Clearfield County

A sign opposing a planned deep injection well sits on a lawn in Brady Township, Clearfield County

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A sign opposing a planned deep injection well sits on a lawn in Brady Township, Clearfield County

Federal environmental regulators issued a permit on Friday for an underground injection well in Clearfield County that will be used to dispose of oil and gas waste liquids.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the permit for Windfall Oil and Gas of Falls Creek, Pa. to build and operate a disposal well in Brady Township. The approval is the agency’s second in less than a month for injection wells in Pennsylvania. EPA issued a final permit to Seneca Resources on January 28 to operate a disposal well in Elk County.

The Brady Township injection well will pump fluids into a geologic layer about 7,300 feet underground known as the Huntersville Chert and Oriskany Sandstone, which has been tapped during decades of gas production, according to EPA records. Windfall will be limited to injecting a maximum of 30,000 barrels per month into the well.

In public comments submitted since the draft permit was issued in November 2012, people raised concerns about the well’s location and strength, its proximity to drinking water supplies and recent seismic events in Ohio, Texas, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Arkansas that have been linked to underground injection wells. In a response document, EPA recognized the “strong evidence that supports the underground injection of fluids as being the trigger that led to these seismic events,” but said that the geologic settings and operations of those suspect wells “differ significantly from the proposed Windfall injection operation.”

There are already two brine disposal wells injecting oil and gas waste fluids in Clearfield County, EPA said. Both of them are operated by Exco Resources. One well has been in use since 2005 and has injected about 623,000 barrels of produced fluid into the Huntersville Chert/Oriskany formation. The other has been in use since 1989 and has injected about 371,000 barrels of fluid into a shallower formation known as the Tiona Sandstone. The EPA temporarily shut down one of Exco’s injection wells in Clearfield County and fined the company in 2012 after the company noticed the well was leaking brine and continued injecting fluids into it for months without notifying the EPA.

EPA said there are no drinking water wells and no documented abandoned oil and gas wells that penetrate the injection zone within a quarter mile of the Windfall well site. A well location map submitted to the state shows 14 water wells within 1,000 feet of the proposed well.

Residents of the area have said that their neighborhood is the wrong place for an injection well and critics of the proposed well vowed last week to continue to fight it.

State Rep. Matt Gabler (R-Clearfield/Elk) called the EPA’s decision to issue the permit “reckless” and “irresponsible.”

“I have worked hard since this disastrous injection well proposal came to light by authoring legislation that would allow Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection to disapprove injection wells, such as the one in Brady Township that will negatively impact our neighbors’ quality of life,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “I am furious the EPA has approved this permit before my legislation could be acted upon.”

Gabler sponsored a bill in June 2013 that would prohibit new injection wells from being built or operated within 1,000 feet of occupied buildings or water supplies unless their owners waived the setback restrictions. House Bill 1566 would also give Pennsylvania environmental regulators enforcement authority over the placement of injection wells.

Any petitions to appeal the permit must be filed within 30 days of Friday’s notice.

This post has been updated to include information about the well location map.

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