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Shell Update: Tioga County Geyser Even Higher than Previously Reported

June 25, 2012

Over the weekend, Protecting Our Waters gained some new information on the geysers and methane migration situation in Union Township, in Tioga County, Pennsylvania.

According to the Wellsboro Gazette, which published photos of the geysers, local residents actually first noticed a problem around June 14th or 15th, even earlier than previously reported. The first signs of a problem were at a well at the Ralston Hunting Club, the hunting cabin mentioned in our previous post.

In this Rashomon, there are three different versions of what was happening to the well.

Leonard Coulson, a certified emergency management coordinator in Union Township who was at the scene: “The well was backing up.”

Deborah Sawyer, Shell communications business advisor: “A private landowner […] was experiencing a change in the functioning of their water well”

Daniel Spadoni, DEP community relations coordinator for the North Central Region: “A problem involving a hunting cabin that had an overflowing drinking water well inside a mud room.”

Additionally, the concentration of methane above the well was found to be 14 percent. Indoor concentrations between 5 and 15 percent are explosive, so that hunting cabin was evacuated. With methane spewing out explosively in several different locations a quarter mile apart, SkyTruth reported an evacuation was ordered throughout one square mile.

And what about the geysers, the most dramatic piece of news from our last post? According to Kim Jennings, Canton fire chief, the water-and-methane geyser’s height reached 50 feet.

Jennings recommended that rarely-used road in the area be closed until the problem was investigated and contained. By June 19th (four to five days after the well’s problems were first discovered), Shell had posted security guards on both ends. Whether the DEP was involved in recommending or requiring the road’s closure is still unknown. In fact, most of the DEP’s damage-control actions are unknown here, besides those in the form of public statements.

The almost certain source of the explosive methane, water-well damage, bubbling streams and geysers is Shell’s fracking site at the Guindon farm.  In their post on the story, SkyTruth noted that central and western Pennsylvania is littered with thousands of abandoned gas wells. These abandoned and orphaned wells create a well-known danger which is one of the arguments for a moratorium: there must be no drilling or fracking until all the old abandoned wells are located, mapped, and plugged; and even then the fracking corporations are responsible for actually avoiding intersecting with them. But in this case Shell is attempting to frame the blame game “as if” their fracking problems are someone else’s fault: drillers of a past era.

SkyTruth has created a map of abandoned wells using available data, but many of these wells are unrecorded. The problems created when they intersect with modern high-pressure, high-volume horizontal hydrofracking has caused geysers in other cases; has contaminated water, caused health problems for people, and killed animals, as the Smitsky case shows.

The deadline for Pennsylvania’s budget, and therefore the potential $1.65 billion handout to Shell, is only four days away. If you haven’t yet, please use PennEnvironment’s easy form to email your lawmakers and ask them to take a stand against this giveaway. But it’s much more effective to call your Pennsylvania legislators right now. Please call to fiercely oppose giving $1.65 billion out of our pockets to Shell, the second largest corporation in the world. Even now, Shell wreaks havoc with their fracking operations in Tioga County, causing evacuations, property damage, explosive methane, and dramatic geysers, all while deflecting responsibility and playing the blame game.  You can find your Pennsylvania state representative and state senator here.

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