EPA reconsiders permit for Clearfield County waste disposal well
The Environmental Protection Agency is reconsidering a permit for a drilling wastewater disposal well in Clearfield County, citing errors in its response to public concerns.
The agency issued a permit to Windfall Oil and Gas Inc. in February to build the well in Brady Township. The company planned to inject up to 30,000 barrels of oil and gas liquids a month into a sandstone formation about 7,300 feet underground.
However, in a motion for voluntary remand filed late last week, the EPA admitted that there were “factual mistakes” in the agency’s 17-page response to public comments, including a statement that there are no drinking water wells within a one-quarter mile of the site. Yet, construction requirements in the Windfall permit took the presence of water wells into consideration, the EPA said.
Brady Township residents Richard and Marianne Atkinson, who oppose the injection well, have pointed out that their private water well is 900 feet from the proposed site. They are concerned about the potential for contamination and have had their water tested three times in as many years.
“If the well goes in near our house, we’ll have to live with uncertainty about our water for the rest of our lives,” said Marianne Atkinson.
The Atkinson’s have also expressed concerns about the risk of earthquakes or other seismic activity as a result of two faults in the area. In its response, the EPA recognized that disposal wells have been linked to increased earthquake activity in states like Texas and Oklahoma, but said that the geologic settings and operations of those wells “differ significantly from the proposed Windfall injection operation.”
EPA spokesperson David Sternberg said the agency is moving to withdraw the Windfall permit “in order to more fully address the public comments, and to assure that the substantive and procedural requirements of the federal regulations have been met.”
The EPA will decide whether to reissue the same permit, make changes to the current one or deny Windfall’s application altogether. First, the EPA’s motion for remand must be approved by the federal Environmental Appeals Board.
Windfall President Michael Hoover did not respond to a call for comment.
According to the EPA, there are only seven active deep injection wells in Pennsylvania. In 2014, the agency has issued permits for three more in Clearfield, Elk and Indiana Counties, which are all being challenged by local communities. A fourth permit for an injection well in Venango County has received final approval, but is not yet active.
Last year, a study by the engineering firm Tetra Tech, commissioned by the Marcellus Shale Coalition, calculated that the state would need nearly 70 injection wells to dispose of wastewater from Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry by 2017.