Pennsylvania

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DEP: Unauthorized drilling fluid contaminated Potter County aquifer

Workers at a natural gas site in Bradford County.

AP Photo/Ralph Wilson

Workers at a natural gas site in Bradford County.

The Department of Environmental Protection has issued a “Notice of Violation” to a gas drilling company that contaminated a drinking water aquifer in Potter County two weeks ago. The DEP says the incident polluted at least five private drinking water supplies with a surfactant not approved by the agency for use in drilling through ground water.

JKLM Energy says while in the early stages of drilling a Utica Shale well, the company used surfactant to free a broken drill bit about 570 feet below the surface.  The company estimates that about 98 gallons of the surfactant, diluted with 22,000 gallons of water, spilled into the aquifer.

DEP says its tests have revealed the surfactant known as “F-485″ and a lubricant known as “Rock Drill Oil 150″ in the groundwater near to the well site in Sweden Township. Surfactants are soapy substances, used in various stages of the drilling process to cut down on friction. This particular surfactant contained a 10 -15% concentration of isopropanol, or rubbing alcohol. But isopropanol is not an approved chemical for cutting through such a shallow stage of the well bore in Pennsylvania. While drilling through an aquifer, producers are required to use only ”air, freshwater or freshwater based drilling fluids.”

A spokesman for the company confirmed use of the unapproved surfactant and says JKLM is cooperating with the DEP on the investigation. The Wexford, Pa. based company also created a website for local residents, which provides daily updates. The most recent post reported 93 water samples had been tested by the company, including private wells, springs and surface water.  A test to determine the presence of surfactants in the water was positive in 12 cases. One sample contained isopropanol at 15 parts per million, the state’s threshold standard for safe drinking water. Eleven contained acetone, a breakdown product of isopropanol.

JKLM is a relatively new name on the list of shale gas drillers in Pennsylvania, but it’s owned by billionaire Terry Pegula, who made his fortune through East Resources before selling the company to Royal Dutch Shell in 2010 for $4.7 billion. DEP has issued JKLM four violations this year. In one case, the company allowed an estimated 275 gallons of phosphonic acid to leak, spilling down over the drill site.

Read the DEP’s Notice of Violation regarding the Sweden Township incident below:

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