DEP to test Cecil impoundment groundwater

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For the second time since 2011, high chloride levels were detected in groundwater under a Marcellus Shale impoundment in Cecil Township.

Residents closest to the impoundment on Swihart Road were notified Friday after the township caught wind of the state Department of Environmental Protection’s plan to test the groundwater and nearest private wells. Township Manager Don Gennuso said letters were hand-delivered to about 50 residents.

“While we are unsure of whether or not anyone’s water supplies may be impacted, if at all, we want to make sure our residents stay vigilant of any changes in their water,” read the letter, which was signed by Gennuso.

It was unclear when Range Resources notified the DEP because the inspector handling the case was not available Friday.

DEP inspectors will take groundwater samples next week from Cecil Township 23 impoundment, and lab results will be produced in 30 to 45 days. According to Range, water in the impoundment’s groundwater monitoring well contained 500 milligrams per liter of chloride.

DEP spokesman John Poister said salt in water is not inherently dangerous, but it becomes a concern when results show at least 250 milligrams per liter. The impoundment, formerly called Worstell, was used to hold recycled industry water before it was drained in April.

Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella said “nothing was detected that poses health or safety risks,” and said the Brush Run waterway that runs along Swihart Road was monitored for years without unusual results.

Pitzarella initially said the company detected heightened levels of chloride in June, but later clarified that chloride spikes were detected in April.

During a third phone call Friday, Pitzarella said three tests since January showed chloride levels have “hovered around” 500 milligrams for one particular groundwater monitor. He said the other three groundwater monitors at the site had normal chloride readings during those tests.

Pitzarella said the discrepancy in dates was because he misread his notes.

He said Range decided to remove water from the impoundment in April “out of an abundance of caution” when water was found in the leak detection zone. Test results of that water showed 75 milligrams of chloride were present. Pitzarella said that level of chloride is not uncommon for the area.

Once the recycled water was removed, Range inspected the impoundment and found tears in the primary liner. Pitzarella said Range employees did not remove the liner, but checked for tears in the secondary liner directly beneath the tears in the primary liner. He said Range did not find additional tears and patched all primary liner tears.

He said the company notified the DEP of these actions in June during a meeting. Poister said he believes the DEP was first notified of a chloride spike July 11, but said he needs to check with the inspector who was not available Friday.

Pitzarella said Range is investigating chloride levels and cannot currently explain the cause. He said it could be an issue with the impoundment or monitoring well, or fluctuations in chloride levels could be “consistent with historical trends in that area.”

When a chloride spike of 1,000 milligrams appeared in September 2011 in groundwater at Worstell impoundment and subsided by November, Poister called it “an anomaly.” Now that it has occurred again, Poister said the DEP is taking a closer look at Range’s operations.

“Our feeling is now that this has happened again and because of the presence in the groundwater monitor well, we have to do a little bit more to determine where the problem is,” Poister said.

He urged residents who notice a change in their water to contact the DEP.

“Residents would know, they would definitely know if there was a change in their water,” he said. “There would be a change in the taste, it would taste salty, and there would be an odor. It’s not subtle.”

The DEP also responded to Cecil Township’s request for a meeting to discuss the impoundment, which was requested before the township knew about any recent issues at the site. The reply, sent from DEP Secretary E. Christopher Abruzzo, said staff from the DEP’s Southwest Oil and Gas District Office will meet with the board to discuss the rules and regulations related to the impoundment.

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