If Nockamixon’s groundwater is poisoned during natural gas extraction, officials will have the evidence.
Scientists with Princeton Hydro, a New Jersey-based water and wetlands resource management company, are traveling throughout the township this week to sample wells, streams, creeks and aquifers. With a $25,000 grant, the Lower Delaware River Wild and Scenic Management Committee, a group of governmental representatives from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, voted in September to do the testing as a protective measure.
Delayed all summer by frequent rainstorms, scientists have completed testing water wells at nine homes and the Upper Bucks Regional EMS headquarters.
Now they’re roving the township, gathering 20 samples from creeks and streams. Overall, water data will stretch over a 300-square-mile region. “We’re testing for a whole suite of chemical parameters,” said James P. Shallenberger, senior project manager for Princeton Hydro. “Right now, the objective is just to establish some base lines and sense what the water is like. If there is any drilling done, there will most likely be some follow up work closer to those drill sites.”
If the water was to become contaminated, the Lower Delaware River management committee argues, this baseline, pre-drilling data could be used to make the case that drilling was the cause. “The baseline testing is extremely important. Because all the discussion we’ve had about accountability and liability, the onus is on us to show the integrity and clarity of our water and have documentation on it,” said the committee’s Pennsylvania chairwoman Nancy Janyszeski, who also serves as Nockamixon’s supervisor chairwoman.
Scientists are focusing their water testing on both sides of the former Cabot Industries property, she said. The Cabot property on Beaver Run Road, just of Route 611near Revere, is the only site in the gas drilling permit application stages at the state Department of Environmental Protection. The 102-acre property was home to a specialty metals production operation. The site underwent a federal environmental cleanup in the early 1990s. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has given the Cabot site a clean bill of health.
The Lower Delaware River management committee is worried that one misstep at a drilling site in Nockamixon could spell disaster for its neighbors. Township homeowners rely on private water wells and septic systems, and many are already grappling with a diminishing groundwater supply. Natural gas is extracted thousands of feet below the surface via hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
The process uses vast amounts of water, mixed with sand and other chemicals, injected into the ground under high pressure to create fractures in the rock and allow the oil or gas to be more easily withdrawn. Like already-affected municipalities across the country, Nockamixon officials want the gas company to disclose what chemicals are being used, but it’s considered a trade secret and is exempted by federal law.
About 250 homeowners have signed leases with Michigan-based gas drilling company Arbor Resources. Nockamixon supervisors have asked Bucks County Court to overturn a decision by the township’s zoning hearing board, which decided Feb. 9 that township ordinances go too far in restricting drilling and agreed with Arbor officials that the state’s Oil and Gas Act trumps local regulations.
If groundwater is poisoned in the drilling process, the burden of proof will be with the gas company, said Shallenberger.
“The state rules put the burden of proof on the drilling company. If there is a problem or if someone else reports a water quality issue within six months that the drilling occurs, there is a presumption the drilling company is responsible for a change in water quality,” he said.
Although these samplings would serve as a before-and-after picture of Nockamixon water quality, it would bring little relief for homeowners suffering the consequences.
“Water is crucial resource for everyone,” he said. Princeton Hydro’s water samples will be sent to the laboratory. Results are expected in a month.
Amanda Cregan can be reached at 215-538-6371 or acregan@phillyBurbs.com
August 18, 2009 02:26 AM