Future of Worstell impoundment still undetermined
Mike Jones/Observer-Reporter ¬ The entrance to the Worstell impoundment in Cecil Township
A water impoundment that has been the subject of controversy in Cecil Township could operate indefinitely, although the state Department of Environmental Protection thinks it is unlikely that the natural gas drilling-based reservoir will remain much longer.
“Realistically, because the cost of transporting water is such that it becomes an economical (hindrance) in a 10-mile radius, there will be a limited future for that,” DEP spokesman John Poister said after attending a conference with Cecil Township supervisors. “We just don’t know when (it will close). We can’t place a date.”
This topic and several others regarding the Worstell impoundment on Swihart Road, which is operated by Range Resources, were addressed during a private conference Friday at the DEP’s Pittsburgh headquarters. The conference had been contested for weeks by some residents and one supervisor who argued that the meeting should be public.
The impoundment itself also has been a contentious issue, and township supervisors questioned why the Worstell site has not yet been restored by Range Resources. According to the dam permit approved by the DEP in 2010, the dam “must be restored within nine months of the last well serviced by the impoundment being placed in to production.”
However, Poister said the permit includes multiple well sites that are being drilled, and Range could conceivably extend the nine-month deadline by adding new well sites. He said it is standard for an impoundment to be utilized for at least three well sites.
The DEP also addressed questions regarding the impoundment’s leak detection system. Poister said the system was not required by the DEP when the impoundment was originally constructed, but it was installed for Range Resource’s own data collection purposes.
Poister said the DEP believes “there has not been a leak that has compromised the soil at the Worstell impoundment” and that two previous wastewater spills at the impoundment were contained and cleaned up quickly.
Supervisor Andy Schrader, who has vocally protested both the impoundment and private nature of the conference, asked the DEP whether the water at the Worstell site is contaminated. Schrader said he received about 25 questions from several township residents who were concerned about the quality of their water. He questioned the DEP’s oil and gas representatives about a spike in the levels of certain chemicals at one of the monitoring wells in November 2011. Range Resources data shows the level of chloride rose 1,000 milligrams per liter between September and November 2011. There were also increases in the levels of strontium, barium and sodium.
“When it has a spike at 90 feet down in the ground water, that’s a concern,” Schrader said. “Now, you’ve got these contaminants in the groundwater. That was the question that really needed to be answered, and they still don’t have the answer.”
Poister said the levels came down immediately after they were measured, and that the spike was an anomaly.
Controversy aside, township President Thomas Casciola said much of the discussion during the conference was technical language about the systems and processes used at the impoundment.
He said, while the township was frustrated that Range Resources bypassed the township in obtaining proper approvals for the original use and construction of the impoundment, he understood the DEP’s permit was not dependent on other municipal requirements. Yet, he said, “It makes it tougher for us to address the application after the fact.”
While the conference did not answer every question that the supervisors had, Poister said the DEP is still looking into their concerns.
“There are still questions, and there is still an investigation ongoing,” Poister said. “We promised to give them some updated material that we showed them (yesterday). We also hope that we can have an improved line of communication with them.”