FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP — Another dispute has surfaced from the gas-rich ground beneath northern Pennsylvania.
A Susquehanna County family filed a federal lawsuit this week against Oklahoma-based WPX Energy, accusing the firm of causing contaminants to seep into their private well as a result of allegedly negligent drilling practices at two natural gas pads.
In the complaint, filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Tammy and Matthew Manning say methane, barium and other contaminants ruined their well water after WPX began drilling in March 2011.
“There were changes to the Mannings’ quality of water, and those changes, we allege, were caused by operations at the well,” said attorney William Dubanevich. “There were detections of substances in the Manning’s water supply that seemed to be extraordinary … especially methane.”
The lawsuit comes in the midst of an investigation by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection into whether the water problems at that well and two others are connected to drilling activity. Water sampling was performed in December and March, a DEC spokeswoman said, but the probe is ongoing with no defined end point.
The allegations follow a similar pattern to other drilling-related disputes in northeastern Pennsylvania, with the parties at odds over whether methane-laced water supplies are the result of natural gas drilling, or could have stemmed from the region’s naturally existing concentrations of subterranean methane.
WPX spokeswoman Susan Oliver said the water wells in question are 4,000 feet from the company’s natural gas well. Pre-drilling testing was only required on water wells within 1,000 feet of the pad at the time that wells were drilled, so no pre-drilling testing was performed on the Manning family’s water.
“When it comes to the items in the litigation, we don’t comment on that,” Oliver said. “But what we will say is we don’t believe that what they’re experiencing has anything to do with our activity.”
The company performed indoor air screening at the DEP’s request, Oliver said, and has since voluntarily assisted families with supplies of potable water and equipment to vent the methane from the wells.
“These guys are our neighbors,” Oliver said.
DEP spokeswoman Colleen Connolly declined to disclose the results of water tests the agency performed, and would not say whether the DEP asked WPX to assist the families affected by water issues.
“If you want to take your information from elsewhere, that’s fine,” Connolly said.
The Manning’s lawsuit — which also names their children and grandchildren as plaintiffs — seeks unspecified monetary compensation for remediation and future health monitoring, monetary damages, and an injunction to keep the company from continuing their activities.
“The Mannings, they have their children and their grandchildren living in that property in that home that they recently moved into,” Dubanevich said.
Well casing cited
The WPX wells in question are located on the Hollenbeck and Depue well pads, located about 10 miles south of the border with New York state.
“Throughout the course of this litigation … we will work to establish that the failing of the operations of the wells, we’ve alleged, have caused the contamination of the water supply,” Dubanevich said.
Wells at both pads were cited by DEP inspectors last year for improper casing — the cement-encased sleeves that protect well bore from the earth’s surface.
One entry in the DEP’s violation database includes comments from an inspector, who noted “bubbling was observed in the cellar of the well.”
“The bubbling identified was detemined (sic) to be between 13 3/8″ x 9 5/8″ annulus,” the entry notes. “Violation cited = Defective casing/cement job on intermediate casing string.”
Meanwhile, Oliver said WPX will continue to work with the DEP during its investigation.
“There’s a lot of other things happening in that area naturally,” she said. “I think it’s really important to look at everything, and not to just jump to a conclusion that is not substantiated.”