Westmoreland water authority will seek repayment from gas driller for additional water tests
Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County officials said Wednesday the agency will seek repayment for the cost of water quality tests conducted this week at the Beaver Run Reservoir in the aftermath of a pressure drop at a deep gas well on the property.
“We increased our testing to every day, and since the incident all of the results are normal,” authority Manager Michael Kukura said. “We’re now back to (testing) every other day.”
CNX Resources leases property at the reservoir property in Bell and Washington townships, where 52 gas wells have been drilled — including several that tap into the Marcellus and Utica shale veins that sit more than a mile below the surface.
A drop in pressure at one of the company’s Utica wells in late January prompted drilling to be temporarily halted on the property.
The water authority routinely tests water and air quality at the reservoir. Since 2011, students and faculty at Indiana University of Pennsylvania test samples collected at the site every two days. Samples were collected for 10 days after the pressure anomaly was first reported, Kukura said.
The school is paid $99,000 for the routine water tests. Kukura said cost estimates for the additional testing have not been tallied, but the authority will seek payment from CNX to cover those costs.
Officials said it is unlikely any signs of contamination or tainted water will be discovered.
The well breach occurred more than a mile below the surface. The reservoir, at its deepest, goes down about 75 feet while the water table below sits at about 100 feet under ground.
CNX officials said Wednesday they still have not determined what caused the issue. Investigations are ongoing to learn what became of natural gas from the well that was discharged into ground as result of the pressure drop.
“We’re pleased with the testing of the wells and our response. The results speak for themselves that there was no fluid contamination,” said Craig Neal, vice president of operations at CNX.
The company closed off the one well where the breach occurred.
Three other wells could be reopened once state environmental officials determine it is safe to do so, Neal said.
The wells have been a lucrative revenue generator for the authority, which over the last year has earned more than $3.8 million in royalties from sale of gas collected from the leased sites. Those leases will run for as long as CNX continues to operate the wells, said authority Solicitor Scott Avolio.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer.