Fracking, Drilling Halted at 36 Pennsylvania Wells Following Water Contamination

Catalyst Energy Inc. of Cranberry, Pennsylvania has been ordered to stop drilling and hydraulic fracturing at 36 wells in northwestern Pennsylvania by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). According to a statement from the DEP, the agency has confirmed that Catalyst’s operations caused contamination of private drinking water sources that serve two nearby homes.

The non-Marcellus shale wells subject to the DEP order are all located in the Allegheny National Forest in Hickory Township, Forest County, about 85 miles north of Pittsburgh. According to the DEP, the homes’ water wells have been contaminated by natural gas and elevated levels of iron and manganese from Catalyst’s operations.

According to the DEP, permits were issued for the 36 combination oil and gas wells in 2010. Catalyst has drilled 22 of those wells in recent months, and 18 have been fracked. The wells are tapping deposits in the Bradford Group, an upper Devonian oil and gas sands formation containing an estimated 250 billion cubic feet of recoverable gas, according to a report in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The wells are between 1,500 and 3,000 feet deep.

According to the DEP statement, people living in the two homes began complaining of odors and cloudy water in January. Notices of violation were issued to Catalyst for groundwater contamination Feb. 10 and March 1 for the two affected homes.

In late March, a follow-up investigation confirmed the presence of natural gas above the surface and dissolved in both water supplies, the DEP said. The state is requiring Catalyst to conduct an investigation to determine which well or wells may be responsible for the gas migration. The company is required to submit a gas migration status report to DEP every ten days, which provides information on the progress of the investigation.

In addition, the driller must immediately provide temporary whole-house water systems to the two affected homes. Catalyst must either permanently restore or replace the water supplies by July 1, the DEP said.

Catalyst wells already producing in the area will be allowed to continue operations, according to the DEP.

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