From the Derrick: Concern over threats to an endangered rattlesnake has prompted a conservancy group to press the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for answers regarding a proposed injection disposal well in Cranberry township.
The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, a non-profit land trust that works for the “conservation of rare and endangered species and significant high quality wildlife habitats” forwarded its comments about the well to the federal EPA last week. The letter was submitted by Andrew Zadnik, land stewardship coordinator.
The organization’s interest is directed to an application filed by Stonehaven Energy Co. of Pittsburgh. The company is asking for a federal 10-year permit to use an existing oil well, located in what is known as the Tippery Field between the Hill City Road and Heckathorn Church Road, to dispose of brine water produced from wells it owns in the vicinity.
The wastewater brine would be injected under pressure into depleted oil and gas formations in the Speechley gas formation at 1,935 to 1,992 feet. There are five injection disposal wells in Pennsylvania, all under the purview of the EPA.
On June 12, the EPA held a public hearing in Cranberry Township to gather comment on the injection disposal well project. Much of the testimony from residents near the well site focused on concerns about fresh water contamination that could occur if the well casing is breached or the underground storage area is compromised. Either occurrence would foul freshwater with salty brine.
At issue are older wells and abandoned wells in the Tippery area that could serve as conduits for brine fluid migration and potential fresh water contamination in waterways and residential water wells.
Conservancy owns tract
The Conservancy owns a 55-acre property (known as the Cornuet tract) about 1 mile away from the proposed injection well. The well is within the watershed served by Halls Run that flows through the Conservancy property, noted the organization.
“This property is protected by WPC (Conservancy) specifically to restore as habitat for the eastern massasauga rattlesnake which is a candidate under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and listed as endangered by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission,” wrote the Conservancy in its letter to the EPA.
In considering the injection well, the Conservancy requested the EPA “assure this property and natural resources within will not be damaged or altered.” The organization also asked the EPA if there is a risk the injection fluids could migrate into old gas and oil wells in that vicinity.
In addition, the Conservancy owns the gas and mineral rights on its property and said it is concerned the waste fluids could migrate to the Speechley Gas formation that is part of its tract.
As to the rattlesnake issue, the Conservancy wrote one of its objectives in Venango County “is to assist in the protection and management of the eastern massasauga.”
The Venango County property is one of the species’ last remaining sites in Pennsylvania, reported the Conservancy. Recent studies show the endangered snake has been documented about 2.5 to 3 miles from the proposed well but “closer occupied habitats might exist.”
Threats to the species include disturbance of the wetland habitat and activities that affect the quality of groundwater. The snake hibernates in groundwater and any pollution such as injected waste water that migrates could reach those sites, noted the Conservancy.
Two other wetland-dependent snakes in that area may be threatened, too, by any potential water pollution, reported the group. They include the coal skink and short-headed garter snake, both listed as species of high level concern.
No timetable as to when the EPA will issue a decision on the permit has been set. A spokesman for the federal agency said last week it would be “months rather than weeks away.”