GRANVILLE SUMMIT - When Chad and Shana Spencer of this rural area of Bradford County agreed to allow Talisman Energy (formerly Fortuna) to harvest natural gas from beneath their property, they never dreamed the end result would be the loss of their water well.
The Spencers live on 1.34 acres and had signed a "non-surface rights" lease with Talisman on the verbal condition that their well water would not be tainted, but when the water coming from their faucets began to show turbidity and was full of sediment, Shana Spencer said she thought her worst fears were coming true.
Spencer, a stay-at-home mother of four children, said the water began showing signs that something was wrong back in late 2008, shortly after drilling began on the Foust well about a half-mile from their Granville Township home.
"On Nov. 16, water had come out looking disgusting, full of sediment. We had lived here about four years and never had issues with the well water - ever. So, I thought it had to be coming from the gas company," Spencer said.
The Spencers had not had their water tested before drilling began because they thought the gas well was far enough away that it was unlikely anything would happen. Plus, Shana said, "we didn't have $800 lying around to have our water tested."
After not getting satisfactory results from Talisman, Spencer said they decided to file a formal complaint through their attorney, Bruce Vickery, of Wellsboro, with the Department of Environmental Protection against the natural gas drilling company for contaminating their well water with methane gas and aluminum, rendering it unusable, they said.
Spencer said Talisman eventually sent someone out to gather water samples for testing as did the DEP.
DEP Community Relations Coordinator Dan Spadoni said the agency has been contacted by the attorney representing the Spencers with an e-mail filing a formal complaint.
"However, we have not yet responded to that e-mail and we cannot speculate at this time what our response will be," he said.
Spadoni added the department has investigated past complaints from the Spencers regarding methane gas in their drinking water well, and sampling done in January confirmed elevated levels of methane in the water.
"However, DEP has not made a final determination on the source or sources of that methane," he said.
Additional sampling at the Spencer well was performed by the agency in May and August and they are awaiting those results, Spadoni said.
"We will provide (the results) to the Spencers after our review of them. It's our understanding that Talisman Energy is voluntarily in the process of drilling a new drinking water well for the Spencers. We do not anticipate any further comment at this time," he said.
But according to Spencer, Spadoni told them that there would be a significant danger of fire, ignition or explosion if methane levels above 28 milligrams per liter were detected.
The Spencers' water showed 67 milligrams per liter, according to the water analysis provided by Talisman, and finally released to the family 13 months after it was done.
Now, some 18 months after they first were approached by the drilling company, they and their family can no longer drink, bathe in, cook with or use their original well water for anything because it is contaminated with methane, reportedly from a "deep source."
But the worst part of it is, Spencer said, Talisman allegedly knew the water was contaminated for more than a year, and "sat on it," never telling the family.
When they were informed by letter dated Jan. 10, 2010, there was only the technical information listed, she said, with no explanation of the results.
Spencer said although Talisman has since drilled two more water wells on their property to look for a source of potable water, it has had limited success, with the most recent well yielding only two and a half gallons of water per minute.
The Spencers' original well produced nine gallons per minute, the owner said, and the new well has proven to not be much better.
A separate study by Duke University showed the water in their new well to be "35 percent methane."
"We were able to light this well water on fire two weeks ago. Our levels go up and down," she said.
Mark Scheuerman, director of government and media relations for Talisman, declined to comment on the matter.