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Driller wants wastewater well near Murrysville border

Dillon Carr
| Monday, July 24, 2017, 11:30 a.m.
An Apex Energy drilling-rig operation is seen above homes off of Possum Hollow Road in Hempfield Township on Wednesday July 5, 2017.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
An Apex Energy drilling-rig operation is seen above homes off of Possum Hollow Road in Hempfield Township on Wednesday July 5, 2017.

A Delmont-based company hopes to convert a plugged gas well in Plum into a wastewater injection well, pending federal and state approval.

Penneco Environmental Solutions is seeking permits to dispose of fracking water and other fluids from oil and gas drilling operations at a site off of Old Leechburg Road near the border of Murrysville and Upper Burrell.

A notice published this month stated the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to issue a permit pending a public comment period. If EPA approves the proposal, the state Department of Environmental Protection will start its permitting process.

According to the DEP, disposal injection wells are used in the oil and gas industry to permanently get rid of flowback water and brine, both by-products of Marcellus shale drilling.

Several studies have connected earthquakes to underground injection wells in Ohio and Oklahoma. In February, a DEP study linked low-magnitude earthquakes in April 2016 in Lawrence County to fracking.

Matt Kelso, a Plum resident and manager of data and technology for FracTracker Alliance, said he is concerned about the proposed injection well. FracTracker Alliance is a nonprofit organization that tracks oil and gas development across the world.

“Almost the entire borough of Plum has been undermined with coal mines. Mine subsidence is already a risk, and even a small earthquake could put a lot of stress on underground coal columns,” Kelso wrote in an email.

He also mentioned coal mine fires, which have been burning in Pennsylvania for decades. One is in Plum, he said: the Renton Mine. DEP officials believe the fire has been burning for four or five decades.

“These fires have further eroded the columns of coal that were left as the mines were abandoned,” Kelso said, adding that other concerns include increased truck traffic, noise, traffic delays and the possibility of spilling or venting toxic wastewater in populated areas.

A DEP fact sheet states the EPA requires injection well applicants to provide information about any underground faults in the disposal area to assess whether the well poses a seismic risk.

The permit will allow Penneco to inject a maximum of 54,000 barrels per month “into the Murrysville sandstone at an interval depth of 1,896 to 1,936 feet,” an EPA public notice reads.

EPA documents say Penneco plans to convert its Sedat No. 3A well into the injection well. The non-shale well was first drilled in 1989 to a depth of 4,300 feet and extracted natural gas at three depths. The well was put out of service in 2015 and plugged to a depth of 1,900 feet.

According to Chief Operating Officer Ben Wallace, Penneco operates over 900 oil and gas wells throughout the Appalachian Basin. The company operates a disposal injection well in Wyoming and another in West Virginia and is not currently drilling new wells.

Penneco submitted a permit to convert the plugged well into a disposal well in March 2016.

Dave Soboslay, Plum borough's assistant manager, said he was not aware of Penneco's plans or the permit.

Copies of the draft permits, statements of basis and administrative indexes are available online at www.epa.gov/pa/epa-public-notices-pennsylvania .

For more information, contact Grant Scavello at scavello.grant@epa.gov or call 215-814-5498.

Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2325, dcarr@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dillonswriting.

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