The owner of two proposed injection wells in Columbus Township said the decision by the Environmental Appeals Board to deny permits stems from the expansion of the testing area for nearby water wells.
"Bear Lake Properties, LLC is very encouraged that the process is finally moving forward, and that now we have clear direction from the EAB as to the proper path to complete the permitting process," Bear Lake Properties President Karl Kimmich said in an email.
Kimmich said confusion surrounds the "area of review", defined by the Environmental Protection Agency as the area surrounding the injection well that was determined to be an area of one-quarter mile radius around the wells.
In the application for construction, Bear Lake's contractor, Tetra Tech determined that there were no groundwater wells within a one-mile radius of the Bittinger # 1, with the closest ground water well one and quarter miles from the site, the EAB said.
At the second well, it was also determined that no groundwater wells existed within a one-quarter mile radius, "and that only five water wells existed within a one-mile radius," the EAB said.
"Through both written comments and oral testimony during the public hearing, commenters expressed concern over whether Bear Lake had adequately surveyed drinking water wells located in New York State and whether data used to identify local water wells in the area surrounding Bittinger #1 and #4 was outdated," the EAB said.
After the public hearing in Columbus Township in March of 2011, the EPA requested Bear Lake Properties conduct another survey of ground water drinking wells, this time expanding the area of review to a one-mile radius that included properties in New York.
"The revised survey map of Bear Lake Properties provided to EPA, with GPS latitude/longitude locations, identified 10 private drinking water wells located in New York State, within one mile of Bittinger #4 well, the closest well to the New York/Pennsylvania state line," the EAB said in its decision.
In their appeal to the permits granted by the EPA, residents Tom Stroup and Bill Peiffer said the EPA failed to to correct the information in Bear Lake Properties permit application.
"Accurate information about both Bittinger Wells from both New York and Pennsylvania must be included and considered to provide complete and comprehensive information. Both the initial information as well as the amended information submitted by Permittee is factually incorrect," Stroup and Peiffer said in their appeal to the EAB filed last July.
In its decision to deny the permit, the EAB said the second survey raised a number of discrepancies that ultimately led the board to determine the EPA had not met its obligations.
"Rather than providing clarity, however, this Supplemental Survey raises additional questions," the EAB said in its decision to deny the permits. "For example, while the information submitted with the permit applications did not identify any water wells within one mile of Bittinger #1, the Supplemental Survey appears to identify fourteen groundwater wells within this same area."
A footnote to the boards decision, however, does not say the EPA failed to "assess water wells within the area of review," but "concludes that the record is insufficient to determine if the Region has satisfied its obligations" and "...that much of the confusion surrounding this issue may be of the Region's own making."
"It appears that the confusion arose when we voluntarily decided to locate and test all water wells within 1 mile (plus!) of the proposed facility. This testing was planned in order to develop a good base line data base of drinking water quality in the area," Kimmich said in an email Thursday. "Detailed water analysis was conducted, at Bear Lake expense, on over 20 wells in the area, and this data was shared with each water well owner. It seems that the petitioners believed that this voluntary action was related to regulatory requirements. The EAB has requested the Regional office to issue clarifying information regarding this issue, which we expect to occur in the near future.
Bear Lake Properties, the owner of the wells, was permitted last June to inject waste water from drilling into a depleted gas zone within the Medina Formation at depth between 4,200 and 4,300 feet.
The EPA Region III will now review the permits and make the findings available for public review and open for comment.