Greene County community has questions after fracking incident at EQT well | StateImpact Pennsylvania Skip Navigation

Greene County community has questions after fracking incident at EQT well

Waiting for water tests and wondering about extent of damage

  • Reid Frazier
EQT's Lumber well pad, in Springhill Township, Greene County. Drilling at the well stopped in June after a 'frac out' the DEP says originated at the well.

Reid R. Frazier / StateImpact Pennsylvania

EQT's Lumber well pad, in Springhill Township, Greene County. Drilling at the well stopped in June after a 'frac out' the DEP says originated at the well.

James Gillin was at his home in the hamlet of New Freeport when a neighbor came looking for him.

“He came down because he knows I work for the gas company. And he found a geyser in his yard,” Gillin says.

The geyser was 15 feet high, coming out of an abandoned gas well. Gillin is a supervisor in Freeport Township, and he’s also a pipeline inspector who works for a contractor of EQT, which is fracking nearby. The neighbor, who also works in the gas industry, suspected the geyser was due to a drilling accident called a ‘frac out’–where liquids used in the fracking process to unlock gas in dense rocks escapes the well casing meant to contain it and gets into a nearby well.

“He just asked if I knew anything about what happens when you get a frac out,” Gillin says. “And I was like, ‘I never seen one.’ So we kind of investigated together and had just common knowledge of the industry. I kind of had an idea what it was and I contacted EQT as quick as possible.”

Reid R. Frazier / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Freeport Township supervisor James Gillin in front of the property of a neighbor, who witnessed a 15 foot tall geyser from a ‘frac out’ from a nearby EQT well.

EQT shut down a nearby fracking operation, called the Lumber well. Then it re-started the operation to see if liquids it was using there were surfacing at the abandoned well. The results were immediate, said Gillin, who’s worked in the gas industry for 25 years.

“You could just hear it roaring through the hole and then you could see the gas coming out and you could see the water,” he said. “By the time they got it shut down, it receded to nothing there.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection says EQT confirmed that fracking liquids used at the Lumber Well were ‘communicating with’ — or getting into – the abandoned well. Despite this, EQT publicly says it’s not sure if the two wells were connected.

“A communication is suspected based on initial observations at the abandoned well, but at this time we do not have enough data or evidence to confirm a communication,” a company spokeswoman said in a July 15 email. “The investigation into whether and how there may be a relationship between the two is ongoing.”

People who live there, though, are calling the event a frac out.

Groundwater problems tied to oil and gas are nothing new in Pennsylvania. There have been nearly 400 confirmed cases of pollution or damage to underground drinking water from unconventional shale gas since 2007.

Abandoned wells are a particular hazard in Pennsylvania, where there are hundreds of thousands of historic wells, many of them unrecorded. That’s why companies must document historic wells near their drilling sites.

Gillin says the frac out affected his neighbor’s well water, though his own appears to be fine. Others nearby have reported strange odors in their water, and pets refusing to drink it.

Elizabeth Pebley lives across a small valley from the Lumber pad.

After the frac out, she started noticing a strange odor to her water. “Like a musty, rust smell,” she says.

Reid R. Frazier / StateImpact Pennsylvania

David and Elizabeth Pebley of Freeport Township, Greene County. Elizabeth Pebley says her water has a strange odor ever since a ‘frac out’ at a nearby EQT well.

Pebley hasn’t drunk well water since she developed health problems while living near fracking in West Virginia more than a decade ago. But she still cooks and bathes with it.

She’s upset she read about the frac out on Facebook and that EQT didn’t tell her, though state law only requires it notify DEP. Some of her neighbors are buying water rather than drink out of their wells. If it turns out her water is contaminated, she wants the company to fix it.

“And for the people in New Freeport, that (were) like right there beside the frac out, they should be doing stuff for them right now. They shouldn’t be waiting until they get the results back,” she said. “They know that there’s something wrong.

EQT said its own sampling has shown “no other areas of concern at this time.“ But some neighbors have their doubts.

Down a forested hillside, Tom Bussoletti bushwhacks to an abandoned well near his home. It’s a waist-high metal pipe, sticking vertically out of the ground.

Bussoletti took an EQT surveyor here about two years ago before the company drilled the Lumber pad. His recollection is that back then, the abandoned well had a pool of water in the middle, completely still.

Reid R. Frazier / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Gas bubbles percolate in an abandoned well in Springhill Township, Greene County, near EQT’s Lumber well pad July 19, 2022. A nearby resident says the bubbles weren’t there before EQT started fracking the well, and said a DEP inspector told him the gas was methane.

Now there’s gas bubbling out of the ground, percolating through the water.

The abandoned well might be from the 20s or 30s, predating Bussoletti’s tenure on this hilltop, when he came here in 1980.

After the frac out, he says he came to check on the well to see if there was any visible damage.

“As I walked up, I said, well, no change. But then when I looked down in, it was percolating. That to me is a change. So the question is, is that change caused by the fracking or not?

(Bussoletti has an unrelated lawsuit against EQM, EQT’s spinoff pipeline company, over the use of the private road he lives on.)

He said a DEP inspector who visited the site July 19 confirmed the gas is methane.

The agency said it can’t say whether this well was affected by the frac out. But it has issued several violations to EQT. And it said it’s still investigating.

For now, there is no fracking at the Lumber pad, but there’s still plenty of workers in the area, building pipelines.

Up Next

Penn study: Changing fuel for cement kilns could cut CO2 emissions. But cost is an obstacle