Cecil Township officials are planning to meet with state environmental regulators to discuss the Worstell water impoundment, although its importance to Marcellus Shale drilling in this area varies depending on whom you ask.
Both Range Resources and state regulators say the pool level is low inside the impoundment and used only sporadically, but one of the township supervisors who is pushing for more information continues to see trucks heading into the property from the Swihart Road entrance.
The impoundment, which can’t be seen from the road, was pushed into the spotlight earlier this year when the state Department of Environmental Protection admitted a defective valve in a holding tank at the site caused 30 gallons of recycled wastewater to escape in November 2011. There also was a spike in the total amount of dissolved solids at the impoundment site last fall, although the DEP does not think the two events are connected, nor was the ground contaminated.
That prompted Cecil Township officials to question how often the impoundment is used and whether it should continue to operate. Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella said the impoundment is still used, but not at the level when three wells were drilled at the site a few years ago.
“We have used the impoundment in recent months,” Pitzarella said in an email statement. “It is low, but that’s not uncommon. I believe we used it approximately one month ago, and we will continue to utilize it in the coming months.”
Cecil Township Supervisor Andy Schrader, who has been pushing for a public meeting with the state DEP to discuss the impoundment’s status, said he and nearby residents continue to see trucks “going up there 24 hours a day.” Citing a DEP dam permit, he thinks the impoundment should be restored to its natural state now that three wells drilled on that site have been producing natural gas for more than a year.
DEP spokesman John Poister said that is not nearly as important to regulators as it is to monitor what is going into the impoundment.
“It doesn’t seem to be an issue with our (permitting) people,” Poister said. “They’re more concerned where the water is going that they’re removing from the impoundment and where it’s coming from. They know the impoundment is at a very low level right now.”
Range has asked for an amendment to the dam permit, which Poister said is to allow them to pave the road leading from Swihart up to the impoundment. The path remains gravel, but Schrader said the request seems to be an indication the natural gas driller wants to continue using it in the future.
“If you want to pave this road … it makes it sound like you want to keep this thing a long time,” Schrader said. “That doesn’t sound like you’re going to restore it.”
Schrader thinks the stipulation in the dam permit requires the driller to restore the impoundment within nine months once the last well at the site is put into production. However, Poister responded there is the potential for Range to establish more wells on that site in the future, although he was unaware of any current plans or permits to drill there.
“Range has not given us any indication in that regard, but that doesn’t mean they’re not,” Poister said. “They could come in with a permit request and they may have … allowances to maybe drill another well on a well pad they have currently.”
Meanwhile, a private meeting between Cecil Township supervisors and Range officials has yet to be scheduled. Schrader, who voted against the closed-door meeting, said he would not be attending regardless because he wants the discussion to be open to the public.
“I just plain won’t go to it,” Schrader said. “If Range or the township has something to say, we can do it publicly. I don’t see any information that needs to be transferred that can’t be done publicly. It just doesn’t sit well with me.”