WATERVILLE - The president and CEO of Pennsylvania General Energy believes the heavy weekend rains may have contributed to the discharge of a foam-like substance from its drilling site about a mile south of Waterville along Route 44.
Doug Kuntz reassured residents his firm will work hand-in-hand with state officials to monitor this drilling location and doesn't believe the discharge is a threat to people or the environment.
The substance discharged is believed to be Airfoam HD, which is used in the drilling process. A Material Safety Data Sheet indicates the substance is "highly biodegradable." State officials believe the material made its way into Pine Creek, but do not think it caused any harm to the waterway.
Kuntz said drilling was discontinued and wells were sealed last week in advance of the spring thaw. When that thaw did occur, he said, the soapy substance seeped through natural earth fissures with the melting water run off.
"What we suspect is heavy rainfall over the weekend in Lycoming County, which was quite substantial, flushed some of the residual soap material out of the natural fissures in the rock and came to the surface," he said.
The soapy material is used in a variety of substances, including cosmetics, and a variety of common household cleaners like Windex and Simple Green, he said.
It is used in the drilling industry to bring out the liquid and drill casings that come when boring a well, Kuntz added.
"This is a very rare occurance to hit one of the natural fissues," Kuntz said. "It is a soapy substance that is very commonly used in the drilling industry. It dissipates rapidy. We expect it to dissipate out of the creek shortly."
The company has had "many conversations" with DEP and are "working very closely" with the agency regarding this discharge, Kuntz said.
"We have many people on site working hand-in-hand with DEP," he said.
The company issued the following statement on Wednesday:
"PGE is investigating the presence of foamy material approximately 600 feet from a drilling location believed to be drilling soap used to remove small bits of rock or cuttings from the initial stages of drilling a well. Natural geologic fissures can result in the migration of a small amount of this material from the very top section of the wellbore during the initial stages of drilling.
"This past weekend's rainfall of nearly two inches may have provided adequate saturation to force this residual drilling soap into natural fissures that reached the surface. The issue was identified by personnel from PGE and the state Department of Environmental Protection.
"PGE will continue to work with the state Department of Environmental Protection to monitor the area of this drilling location."
Pennsylvania General Energy is a private company based out of Warren, and has been involved in the gas well industry for the last three decades. It operates about 1,200 wells in Pennsylvania, only 39 of which are in the Marcellus Shale region, with seven in the Lycoming/Clinton County area.
Depending on the weather, Kuntz doesn't expect drilling to continue the Waterville well until late this month or early April. The wells will remain sealed during the hiatus. The actual hydrofracing process to extract the natural gas from the well won't occur until this fall.
While Kuntz believes Monday's discharge was "rare" and shouldn't pose any health or environmental hazards, he said the Marcellus Shale natural gas industry should be "a tremendous economic boon" for Lycoming and Clinton counties and the rest of the Northern Tier counties for years to come.
"I was born and raised in this region and it's wonderful to see prosperity in this region," he said. "The Marcellus Shale gas will mean many companies filling jobs and it's going to be very beneficial to the local community for people born and raised here to find work here. The industry is growing and we are working hand-in-hand with the local institutions. PGE and the rest of the industry are very much behind those efforts."