New Castle News

November 17, 2012

Shell addresses concerns for Henry organic farm

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — A Shell Appalachia spokeswoman said the company has been responsive to concerns of a North Beaver Township organic farmer.

Kimberly Windon, business communications manager for Shell, has tried to dispel their fears, saying the company has looked closely at the potential for abandoned and unplugged gas and oil wells existing on the property of Dale and Maggie Henry of Columbiana Road.

Shell is drilling on the nearby Kephart property off Route 551, which was the site of a two-hour peaceful picket Monday by anti-fracking demonstrators from across the state.

More than 30 people gathered with signs and expressed concerns about the water and safety of the nearby organic farm and houses in relationship to fracking.

But Windon said their concerns are basically unfounded, especially where the Henry farm is concerned.

Shell conducted extensive surveys using multiple technologies on the Henry property, including ground penetration radar and metal detection surveys, Windon said.

“We also excavated the area of most concern by Mrs. Henry and conducted soil sampling, and found no sign of any sort of hydrocarbons,” she said.

“Additionally we walked her entire property to try to identify any suspected wells, but nothing’s been found.”

Henry had visited the county commissioners a couple of months ago and presented maps showing dozens of abandoned gas and oil wells that are thought to exist throughout western Lawrence County, some that she feared were on her property and posed a potential hazard to her organic farming operation, should fracking take place nearby.

“She pointed out to us what she suspected were abandoned oil and gas wells,” Windon said. “A piece of pipe sticking out of the ground looks like it could be an abandoned well. But we dug down 12 feet and found only a 3-foot piece of pipe sticking in the ground.”

Other concrete cylinders that Henry had identified as suspicious were culvert pipe and not oil- and gas-related, Windon said.



WATER TESTING

“We take groundwater protection seriously,” she said of Shell.

Whenever the company prepares to drill, it routinely tests all water sources within 500 feet of a site and supplies copies to the landowner and the state Department of Environmental Protection. Shell also keeps a copy in case a change in water condition should occur, Windon said.

A third-party contractor  — Moody and Associates of Meadville — conducts all of Shell’s water sampling, and Shell checks the sources.

Wells are tested for trontium, bromide, alkalinity, nitrate as nitrogen, oil and grease, pH, specific conductance, total dissolved solids, total suspended solids, turbidity, chloride, sulfate, hardness, MBAS (methylene blue activated substances), dissolved methane, dissolved ethane, dissolved propane, ethylene glycol, benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, xylene, arsenic, barium, cadmium, calcium, chromium, lead, iron, magnesium, manganese, mercury, potassium, selenium, silver and sodium.

“We’ve found in many pre-drilled water tests that methane is already present, and it’s not necessarily a shale issue,” Windon said, noting that the prevalence of methane migration is pretty high in the state.

“When we identify a situation where an individual has methane already present, we notify them,” Windon said.

If the levels are high enough, meaning if they hit a point where the gas needs venting, “we provide that for the individual. Safety is our top priority. We take a lot of individual steps to make sure we know what’s out there.”

Windon said Shell is not aware of any changes in wells in its areas of drilling in North Beaver, especially in areas associated with the Kephart drilling.



CALL WITH PROBLEMS

“We encourage people to call our community hotline number to report any problems, and we can have someone come out and take a look,” she said. That toll-free number is (877) 842-7308.

And while the demonstrators largely were protesting the potential ills of fracking, Windon pointed out that right now, Shell is just drilling and not conducting horizontal fracking on the Kephart site where the rally took place.

“It’s all still exploratory,” she said.

The completions phase is not even scheduled to start there yet, Windon said.

She explained that the completion process involves going back into the drilled well and fracturing the rock, pumping down the water and flowing it back to the surface.

After the gas surfaces, it will be flared or burned off. Then the company will safely shut in the well until it is ready to put the gas into a pipeline, she said.

Fracking is done for a very limited time,” Windon said, noting that for a typical well the total completion process is a 24-hour-a-day operation that can last 15 to 30 days.

People often in their talk against hydraulic fracturing paint the picture as something that happens for the life cycle of the well, which is not the case, Windon said.

Joe Minnitte, Shell’s case manager, was at the site the day of the protest and said the picket was peaceful.

The state police, who sent 27 troopers and a helicopter were merely watching over the situation.

“Energy is the one thing debated over and over again,” Windon commented. “A healthy debate is important to have, but that debate also needs to be based off of fact and not suspicion.”

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)