Residents from Bear Lake and the surrounding area gathered Thursday morning to voice their disapproval at the site of an injection well that is awaiting approval from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Nearly 100 protesters from Pennsylvania and New York State chanted and voiced their anger with the EPA's recent notice of proposal to issue final permits to
Bear Lake Properties to operate two Class II injection wells "used for the disposal of produced fluids (brine) associated with oil and gas production activities..." in Columbus Township.
Times Observer photo by Ben Klein
Brokenstraw Watershed Council member Tom Stroup speaks to a crowd near the site of a brine injection well in Columbus Township on Thursday morning. The Environmental Protection Agency has given notice of its proposal to issue final permits for two brine disposal injection wells in the township and reopened a public comment period until Nov. 3.
"No liquid landfills," they chanted.
"Where's (Congressman) Glenn Thompson?"
"Where's (State Rep.) Kathy Rapp? "
"Where are the (Warren County) Commissioners?"
"It's a bad idea in a bad place. I don't think Trout Unlimited or any of us as organizations have a problem with drilling or injection disposal if it's done properly. This is in our eyes very poor practice of what's being attempted here with some volatile chemicals and fluids that are contained and what they can be used with," Tom Savko, president of Caldwell Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited, said. "In a day and age when the big oil companies are recycling 100 percent of their wastewater, why are we trying to gamble with what we are doing here? When recycling is a technology, is available and is getting better."
Thursday's protest was a reaction to show there's support to oppose the project, Brokenstraw Watershed Council President Lynne Myers said.
"I'm disappointed as an American citizen," she said of the EPA's proposal to issue final permits. "They're on one side, they're not helping us."
"I'm against it. Why are they bringing it here?" Bear Lake resident Kurt Nelson asked. "I can drink the water and I can eat the fish where I live."
Nelson said he came to the Bear Lake Fire Hall before residents visited the injection site.
"I just want to know what's going to happen with my grandkids' grandkids ...why are you bringing it here?" he asked.
Bear Lake Fire Police Captain Jim Snow said the township would have to be evacuated if a tanker carrying fluids ever spilled because they are not told what the trucks are carrying.
"Number one, we actually don't know what kind of chemicals are in this, because they won't give us a list of what is in it. We would probably have to close the roads, evacuate the area and call Weavertown," Snow said. "Weavertown is a company that comes in for large spills. They do the cleanup, we would have to call them in to take care of this for us. We have no idea what to do with this."
Ted and Eloise Smith live a quarter mile of the site and said they fear a spill could contaminate their water, air quality and drive down the price of their property.
"I used all my retirement, most of it to build this home, I spent $450,000 and during this injection process the value of my property, luckily, would be $100,000. And if the chemicals go down in our drinking water, it's worth zero. There's no way it's worth any kind of money," Ted Smith said. "I don't know if we're going to get it to stop now. But they want to start doing other wells and all these other neighbors are going to have a problem, especially if they pollute the water."
Once the injection wells are permitted and running, he said, if Bear Lake Properties sells the wells to a larger company, "...they have so many lawyers and money, there's nothing a little guy like us can do."
For now the goal is to postpone until the recycling process is cheaper for smaller oil and gas companies, he said.
"It's a total fallacy. They don't know what's going to happen down there because those wells are 30 years old," Eloise Smith said of the EPA's requirements to operate an injection well.
A resident from Clymer, N.Y., joined the protest Thursday because he said he shares the same concerns as residents in Pennsylvania.
"I don't think any individual or community should have to have that kind of risk underneath their feet," he said. "There just has to be a better way to do it ... Everybody in this area is on a well, and I just think they are making an environmental risk that is never going to go away."
Injection wells came to the forefront after a series of minor earthquakes led to the eventual closure of a similar well in northeastern Ohio in January.
"It's a completely different animal than in Ohio," Bear Lake Borough Council President Karl Kimmich said of the wells' geologic formation in January.
The disposal wells in Columbus Township will inject wastewater into a depleted gas zone, where nearly 10 billion cubic feet of gas and wastewater have been removed over the last 25 to 30 years, he said.
"In contrast, our project will dispose of water into a known, depleted sandstone formation, with extensive reservoir capacity data acquired from the numerous gas wells drilled in the region," Kimmich said. "Therefore, we have a very good projection as to the volumes that we will be able to safely dispose into this deep rock layer."
"We're not against gas drilling, we need it," Brokenstraw Watershed Council Vice President Bill Kibler said. "But the premise of our organization is let's do it correctly, let's do it a way that's not going to affect a lot of people. We should've learned our lesson years ago from the '70s and '80s that you don't throw this stuff in the ground and hope it's going to go away. It's not going to go away."