W. Pa. wells had casing failures in complaint area

PITTSBURGH (AP) — At least two gas wells near a community that’s complained of sudden drinking water pollution developed casing problems during the drilling process, but neither Rex Energy Corp. nor state environmental regulators disclosed those problems during recent discussions about the contamination.

A cement well casing is meant to prevent natural gas or fluids from leaking into nearby aquifers during the drilling and hydrofracturing, or fracking, of wells.

There’s no proof that the casing problems — or reported environmental violations — at Rex drilling sites caused the water contamination for at least 10 households in the rural Woodlands community, about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh. But residents and environmental groups said on Monday that they were distressed to learn of the casing problems. The state Department of Environmental Protection, they said, doesn’t seem to understand that the lack of full transparency fuels public mistrust.

Since early last year, people have complained of suddenly discolored and smelly water, unexplained illnesses, and tests that suggest the presence of industrial chemicals in their water.

“Stonewalling only enhances a public perception that DEP is not doing its job,” said Jan Jarrett, president of the environmental group PennFuture. “It just makes everybody look bad, and makes the public nervous and more unsure of the industry as a whole.”

DEP said Monday that Rex had corrected the casing issues. State records indicate no fines were levied.

Rex Energy spokesman Derek Smith said the company experienced two “well integrity issues” and took immediate corrective action.

“The string of steel casing that protects the groundwater was never jeopardized. We remain confident that our operations have not impacted ground water chemistry in this region,” Smith said.

Rex also has said in a statement that extensive tests of area well water found “no notable differences in water chemistry between pre- and post-drill water quality tests of the water wells in question,” but some residents disagree.


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