Warren County is closer to having the only two fully permitted brine disposal wells in Northwestern Pennsylvania.
The Environmental Protection Agency has given notice of its proposal to issue final permits for two brine disposal injection wells in Columbus Township and reopened a public comment period until November 3.
The federal Environmental Appeals Board rejected the permits for two disposal wells in the township in July, citing an inadequate accounting of drinking water wells within the area.
"The EAB remanded the permits to the Region on one particular issue only, to clarify the record on the location of drinking water wells within the area of review for each of the proposed injection wells," the EPA said in its notice. "The Region has supplemented the administrative record and concluded that there are no known drinking water wells in the areas of review."
The EPA approved permits for the disposal wells last June, and residents Tom Stroup and Bill Peiffer filed a petition for review last July which EPA Region III Assistant Regional Counsel Nina Rivera said was not warranted.
A public protest against the injection wells has been set for Thursday, Sept. 6 at 9 a.m. a the Bear Lake Fire Hall, Stroup said.
Bear Lake Properties, the owner of the wells, was permitted to inject waste water from drilling into a depleted gas zone within the Medina Formation at depth between 4,200 and 4,300 feet.
As part of its application, Bear Lake Properties had to provide the EPA with a map that included drinking water wells within a one-quarter mile radius of the area of review and within one mile of the proposed injection well, and during the public hearing in March 2011 commenters questioned whether drinking water wells had been properly surveyed by the company and the EPA.
"Section 144.55 requires that the applicant identify the location of all known wells in the area of review which penetrate the injection zone. The regulations require corrective action for improperly sealed or abandoned wells within that area, so they do not allow fluid migration out of the injection zone, not only into the lowermost underground source of drinking water (USDW), but also into any aquifers where drinking water wells are located," the EPA said in its supplement to the statement of basis.
According to the EPA, Bear Lake Properties reviewed the Ground Water Inventory System database of the Pennsylvania Geologic Survey and the database of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation "to determine the sources of ground in the general area around the proposed injection wells."
"The applications acknowledged that because the well reporting requirement in Pennsylvania was established in 1968, other water wells could exist that were not in the database. In addition, the applicant did a field survey in the areas of review around the proposed injection wells to determine whether there were any water wells within such areas of review," the EPA said in its supplement to the statement of basis. "Bear Lake did not find any water wells within the areas of review. This original survey did identify five water wells near to Bittinger #4, but as Bear Lake has explained to EPA, those wells actually were beyond the one-mile radius of the Bittinger #4 despite being listed in the table of Appendix A of the Bittinger #4 application. They were not included in the topographic maps because they are located beyond the area depicted in the maps."
The EPA had Bear Lake Properties do another survey of water wells near the area after the public comment period. In their appeal, Stroup and Peiffer said that even after the survey "the Region has still failed to survey water wells" and the EPA "...clearly erred by relying on inaccurate and insufficient information when making its permit determination."
"This resulted in a much more thorough survey of water wells than the original survey that relied primarily on public records," the EPA said in its supplement to the statement of basis. "This thorough survey, which went beyond a search of public records as specified in the regulations, resulted in a list of water wells within one mile of each of the proposed injection wells. No water wells were identified within the areas of review."
In its decision, the EAB said the EPA did not adequately survey water wells but rejected five other issues in Stroup's and Peiffer's appeal, including the failure to account for the depth of water wells in Columbus Township, the number of wells in the area, the population growth in the township and possible adverse economic impacts, the potential for earthquakes and accepting late-filed comments for the draft permit.
"It appears that the confusion arose when we voluntarily decided to locate and test all water wells within 1 mile (plus) of the proposed facility. This testing was planned in order to develop a good base line data base of drinking water quality in the area," Bear Lake President Karl Kimmich said in an email previously. "Detailed water analysis was conducted, at Bear Lake expense, on over 20 wells in the area, and this data was shared with each water well owner. It seems that the petitioners believed that this voluntary action was related to regulatory requirements. The EAB has requested the Regional office to issue clarifying information regarding this issue, which we expect to occur in the near future.
According to the EPA, the public comment period is limited to the location of drinking water wells within the areas of review, which is a quarter-mile radius around each injection well.
Public comment will be accepted at "EPA Region III, Ground Water & Enforcement Branch (3WP22), Office of Drinking Water and Source Water Protection, 1650 Arch Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19103" to the attention of S. Stephen Platt until November 3. Comments may also be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.