Pennsylvania regulators and Range Resources Corp. continue to quarrel over whether a natural gas well in the northeastern part of the state is responsible for fouled water nearby.
The two sides have been at odds for nearly a decade now over whether the Harman Lewis 1H well in Lycoming County’s Moreland Township is to blame for methane in groundwater and surface waters. The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued an order earlier this week for Range to address the well “once and for all,” which it charges is polluting water because of defective cement.
DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said the agency has “attempted to resolve” the matter “in good faith,” but Range has refused “at times to accept responsibility.” The company again disagreed with the order after it was announced, maintaining that methane in nearby water is naturally occuring.
The agency discovered methane and pressure in the well during an inspection in early 2012, attributing the problem to faulty cement. Early efforts to resolve the issue were deemed inadequate by the agency, and it issued a notice of violation the following year.
Another order was issued in May 2015 to take specific corrective actions on the well, but a remedial plan submitted by Range was rejected by the agency, which threatened a nearly $9 million fine that was later dropped after the company put forward a more satisfactory plan.
But according to DEP, those efforts have failed to stop methane migration. Moreover, in 2016, DEP said the company mistakenly drilled outside of the well’s casing while attempting to enter the bore, leaving an open hole near the well.
“We have been working with Range Resources but have been met with sporadic cooperation, which will no longer be tolerated,” McDonnell said. “Through a rigorous investigation, DEP has determined that Range Resources is responsible for the leak and must take corrective actions as outlined in this order, which seeks to resolve this environmental issue once and for all.”
Essentially, the latest order directs the company to prevent methane migration and relieve pressure in the well. The open hole also must be addressed.
But Range spokesman Mark Windle said the company “strongly” disagrees with the latest order.
“We have worked tirelessly over the past nine years to fully cooperate with both regulators and nearby residents, despite extensive third-party studies and analysis that determined the methane in the groundwater is naturally occuring,” he said.
The Harman Lewis well was drilled in early 2011 and completed later that year. Range conducted water testing in 2010 that covered a 2,500-foot radius around the well site. Of the 19 water wells initially sampled, the company found existing methane concentrations in four of them before any operations started. Despite its findings, the company has also provided water treatment systems for 11 impacted water supplies.
Range added that the Burkett and Marcellus shales outcrop in the region, adding that some water wells in the vicinity are drilled into those gas-bearing zones.
Range primarily operates in Southwest Pennsylvania and has marketed its properties in the Northeast part of the state as part of ongoing efforts to divest noncore assets. DEP said failure to comply with its latest order could result in additional enforcement actions.