About Air and Water

Thursday, September 20, 2007

We Can't Drink Natural Gas: Gas explosion rocks Kushequa, PA water well

By Ted Lutz - The Kane Republican - Wed., Sept. 19, 2007
KUSHEQUA " Drilling is blamed for causing natural gas to seep into the Kushequa community water well and explode.

Several blasts have rocked the well since early Friday morning, according to residents who gathered at the well site Monday to confer with representatives of the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

The explosions have sent a vent cap flying more than 10 feet and have flipped a half-inch thick steel lid off the opening of the well. The lid weighs about 120 pounds.

No one was injured by the explosions, which apparently were triggered by a spark from an electrical pump switch inside the manhole at the well.

The 96-foot deep well on the Tony Zippo property at 65 Church St. serves 14 residential customers, including six permanent homes and eight camps. Residents have been advised to buy bottled water for drinking.

“We didn’t have this problem until they started drilling,” John Verolini said in blaming Kushequa area oil and gas drillers for the volatile situation at the water well. He wonders whether the community well will “ever be back to normal.”

He believes the drilling companies should be “made to pay” for the expenses incurred by Kushequa residents for buying drinking water.

Verolini has lived in Kushequa his entire life. He is president of the Smethport School Board.

Bob Maykowski, water quality specialist with the DEP oil and gas office in Warren, advised the residents to “keep you receipts” for bottled water. He said the DEP would “put pressure” on the drillers to provide Kushequa with a “temporary” water supply until the DEP completes its investigation.

“We know we have a problem here,” Maykowski told the residents. “Give us a chance to see what we can do. Unfortunately, we’ve been down this road before.”

Gas and oil drilling has been taking place at several sites in the Kushequa area.

Tim Curry, a DEP oil and gas inspector from the Warren office, joined Maykowski at the meeting Monday with Kushequa residents. Two other DEP workers also were at the scene.

Curry advised the residents to keep vents open on the community well along with private water wells to keep migrating gas from building up.

Zippo, who has his own well just a few feet from the community well on his property, taped up electrical wires as a precaution. He also placed a screen over an opening to allow gas to escape.

Gas vapors were visible on the interior concrete walls of the manhole at the community well. Gurgling noises could be heard coming from the community well and Zippo’s well, indicating that gas was still present.

A DEP test showed a reading of 64 percent gas inside in the manhole at the community well.

“There’s definitely gas in it,” Maykowski said after testing the well. He said there are no known health risks associated with drinking water containing natural gas. He said he is “more concerned” about the risk of more explosions.

Other Kushequa residents also have reported gurgling noises in their wells.

The DEP took water samples from the community well and also tested several homes in Kushequa for the presence of gas.

Curry said the venting of the wells to allow gas to escape “could be for a long time.” He warned that even a small amount of gas could create a dangerous situation in the wells and in basements of nearby homes.

The DEP plans a thorough investigation of the active gas and oil wells in the Kushequa area, but this alone may not pinpoint the exact cause. DEP officials said the gas may be entering natural crevices in the mountainous terrain. Gas also may be migrating through uncharted oil wells drilled perhaps a century ago and long since abandoned.

The community well in Kushequa was drilled in 1992. At the time, the well was operated only occasionally as a backup for a nearby spring-fed reservoir, which holds 6,500 gallons of water.

About two years ago, the well replaced the reservoir as the community’s water source.

Because of the current problem with gas entering the well, the reservoir could be re-activated as the Kushequa water source, at least temporarily. However, the reservoir and certain connecting lines reportedly would need to be tested to make sure bacteria is not present.

Steven Watts of 90 Church St. said he moved to Kushequa in 2006 in part because “the water was great.” “The water is delicious,” the Bradford native said.

Watts is one of the residents who heard the first explosion at the well at 1:35 a.m. Friday. “It shook my whole house,” he said. He claims he heard three more blasts.

When he and Zippo inspected the site Friday morning, they initially thought vandals had removed the lid and vent cap from the well. Zippo said at first they “didn’t connect” the explosions with gas in the community water well.

“The whole house shook,” Zippo said in describing the first explosion at the well. He said the jolt was similar to “a loud clap of thunder.”

The explosions at the well have caused adjacent grass to turn brown.

Water from gas-infiltrated wells appears to be opaque with a “rotten egg smell,” Kushequa residents claim. The water also has “bubbles,” they point out.

Both oil and gas have infiltrated other water wells in the Kane area, according to the DEP.

In citing one example, Curry said a woman at an area home turned on a water spigot and “out came oil.” In Smethport, gas seeping into a water well caught fire and burned with a large plume, Curry said.
See photos of residents looking into a manhole at the community water well which had been rocked by several natural gas explosions.

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