Washington County drilling hearing raises conflicts over contamination

Loren “Buzz” Kiskadden first noticed a water problem at his house trailer in rural Amwell Township, Washington County, while using a hose to fill a wading pool for his grandchildren in June 2011.

“A gray sludge was filing up the bottom of the pool. It was just nasty,” said Mr. Kiskadden, 55, in testimony before the state Environmental Hearing Board last week in Pittsburgh. “I shut the water off and told the kids not to get in it.”

Mr. Kiskadden testified that he continued to use the water, which periodically had a “rotten-egg smell,” to shower, wash dishes and clothes, water his garden and to drink. To get rid of the odor, and at the suggestion of a state Department of Environmental Protection inspector, he poured half a gallon of bleach down his well once or twice a month.

He testified that he stopped using the well water on his garden that summer after his tomatoes turned black and the plants died. He stopped drinking it in fall 2011, after he got sick.

Mr. Kiskadden’s testimony about his water pollution problems highlighted the third week of hearings on his appeal of a Sept. 9, 2011, DEP determination that Range Resources’ Yeager shale gas drilling operation on a ridge did not contaminate his well water in a valley a little more than half a mile away.

The legal question is whether the DEP followed its rules and procedures to identify and assess the contamination and made the appropriate and correct determination. Mr. Kiskadden wants the DEP to issue a finding of contamination and order Range to restore or replace his water supply.

Testimony in the case, the first in the state to challenge a DEP water quality determination, is to resume Wednesday.

Range and DEP inspectors and administrators who also testified last week maintain that a leaky 13.5-million-gallon wastewater impoundment did not cause Mr. Kiskadden’s water contamination. Nor was it caused by a failed drill cuttings and drilling mud processing pit or by spills in and around the drilling operation, they said.

Alan Eichler, DEP’s former oil and gas program manager during the investigation of Mr. Kiskaden’s complaint, testified the Sept. 9, 2011, determination letter was based on there being no evidence of a hydro-geologic connection between the drill site and the water well.

If there was a hydro-geological connection, high concentrations of chlorides present in the wastewater impoundment also would show up in Mr. Kiskadden’s water well, he said in response to questions by DEP attorney Michael Heilman. According to tests that the DEP and Range performed, they did not.

“If it were oil- and gas-related, we should have seen chloride levels 10 or 20 times higher,” said Mr. Eichler, who was replaced as oil and gas program manager in May and is now manager of the department’s Safe Drinking Water Program in the Southwest Region.

He attributed Kiskadden water test results showing high concentrations of calcium and sodium — which, with chlorides, are “primary chemical constituents” of shale gas drilling and fracking wastewater — to a chemical reaction called “natural softening.” It produces high alkalinity and high total dissolved solids “and is absolutely consistent with what we see in so many other water samples in Western Pennsylvania,” he said.

Mr. Eichler was asked on cross-examination why, in light of that natural softening, water samples taken from Mr. Kiskadden’s kitchen faucet in Jan. 30, 2012, registered a water-hardness reading of 206 milligrams per liter, considered “very hard.”

He said the water would have been even harder if not for the natural softening.

via Washington County drilling hearing raises conflicts over contamination.