The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) has remanded permit applications for two wastewater disposal wells in Pennsylvania back to the agency's Region 3 office in Philadelphia, on suspicion that inadequate testing of nearby drinking water wells was performed.

In a 25-page ruling issued June 28, the EAB said it was giving the regional office "the opportunity to cure the record deficiencies," and said permits could indeed be reissued to Bear Lake Properties LLC.

"The board is unable to determine, based on the current state of the record, if the Region has satisfied its regulatory obligation to ensure that all water wells within the area of review are properly identified and considered," the EAB said.

At issue are two Class II injection wells -- Bittinger #1 and Bittinger #4 -- that Bear Lake has proposed drilling in Columbus Township, located in Warren County. Both wells are designed to target the Medina Formation, with the former drilled to a depth of between 4210 and 4327 feet, the latter drilled to between 4285 and 4302 feet. Region 3 issued permits for both wells on June 8, 2011.

But the EAB agreed with two local residents -- William Peiffer Jr. and Paul Stroup, who had appealed to the board on July 8, 2011 -- that there was conflicting information presented by Bear Lake's contractor, Tetra Tech Inc., during the permitting process. In the application for construction of the Bittinger #1 well, Tetra Tech concluded that no groundwater wells existed within a one-mile radius of the well. But in the application for construction of the Bittinger #4 well, Tetra Tech said there were no groundwater wells within a one-quarter mile radius of the well, but said there were five groundwater wells within a one-mile radius.

The EAB also said there were written comments and oral testimony during the public hearing for the original permitting process that indicated an inadequate survey was done over groundwater wells in New York state, which is near the construction site.

"The gist of the comments appears to be a general concern about whether the Region complied with its obligation to identify drinking water wells within the area of review of the Bittinger #1 and #4 wells," the EAB said, later adding that Region 3 "has utterly failed to clearly articulate its regulatory obligations or compile a record sufficient to assure the public that the Region relied on accurate and appropriate data in satisfying its obligations. Indeed, the Region has failed to clearly articulate what data it relied upon in making its determination [to approve the permits]."

Despite the ruling, Bear Lake Properties President Karl Kimmich sounded optimistic that the wells would eventually be permitted again and would someday become operational.

"[We are] very encouraged that the process is finally moving forward, and that now we have clear direction from the EAB as to the proper path to complete the permitting process," Kimmich told the Times Observer of Warren, PA.

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