Three Months After Water Contamination, Critical Questions Remain


Three months after Public Herald broke the story about the contamination of groundwater sources for public and private water supplies in Potter County, Pennsylvania…99% of our most critical questions are still unanswered.

But we’re not giving up – that’s why we’ll be submitting a list of 21 questions again tomorrow morning (Thurs. 12/17) at a public meeting of the Potter County Natural Gas Resource Center where the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and JKLM Energy will update the public about their ongoing water contamination investigations at the Gunzburger Building, 1 N. Main St. in downtown Coudersport, from 10 a.m. to noon.

These questions have been submitted to DEP, JKLM and county officials in multiple formats since September. They’re available here for print and download (click ‘File’ in the upper left for options.)

Question #1 has our most anticipated answer:

Although JKLM has regularly reported the results of 3 parameters of their testing (isopropanol, MBAS, and acetone), we still do not have a full list of the chemical compounds that were injected into the uncased well bore.  As originally reported in Public Herald,isopropanol constitutes only 10-15% of the surfactant formula.  (  What are the remaining chemicals of that formula?  And what are the chemical compounds of Rock Drill Oil, which was also used?

In a Bradford Era article published more than a month after the contamination, Potter County Commissioner Paul Heimel attempted to write off impacts to the “water sources…polluted by the spill” as an “erroneous report.” (Public Herald’s September 24th story was “BREAKING: Oil & Gas Drilling Impacts Public Drinking Water Supplies in Potter County.”)

However, Public Herald respectfully disagrees and contends that confirmed contamination of water sources within a water supply area and shutting off public systems as a precaution is indeed a documented “impact” and far from an “erroneous report.”

The current routine flushing and testing of these public water systems nearly three months later is also a significant “impact” that has yet to prompt consumer advisories.

Yes, despite the reality of impacts to both public and private water supplies, no advisory notification has ever been sent to the homes of residents within the impacted area, or to consumers dependent upon the public water supplies, by water authorities, county or state officials.

One of those public supplies belongs to Charles Cole Memorial Hospital, which is currently leased for fracking with JKML Energy (the company responsible for pollution.) Hospital staff report that there are many employees who still do not know that the groundwater system was contaminated.

In contrast, a recent incident in Sandusky, Ohio prompted the regional water authority to deliver notices to homes in the affected area. Officials in Coudersport have chosen not to inform residents of the incident in order to “prevent alarm” and because they are not required to by law.

The Safe Drinking Water Act requires water systems to inform customers when the system is not in step with regulations. When Coudersport Borough and Charles Cole Hospital officials switched water sources nearly three months ago, they technically didn’t have to advise consumers of contamination of the aquifer serving those original sources.

Coudersport Borough and the hospital are also not required by law to notify water consumers that testing and flushing of those systems, for some reason, is ongoing.

But even though notification isn’t required, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),  Center for Disease Control (CDC) and others recommend that Drinking Water Advisories be issued for three reasons besides the requirement by law:

  • Provide information—An advisory may be issued when consumers need to receive important information but do not need to take any action. For example, a water system may issue an advisory to inform households about seasonal changes in water taste.
  • Encourage preparedness—Advisories may help customers prepare for planned disruption in service or anticipated water quality threats. Advisories may affect a small area, such as during distribution system construction or repair. Advisories also can urge customers to prepare for a large area event, such as an approaching hurricane. This type of advisory alerts people to watch or listen for more information.
  • Recommend action—Advisories may tell customers to take specific actions, such as to boil water or use bottled water. These advisories may be issued as a precaution or in response to a waterborne disease outbreak.
  • Meet public notification requirements—Advisories are required by the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) when specific circumstances exist. The SDWA requires communication with customers when the water system does not comply with a regulation.

Read the full CDC “Drinking Water Advisory Communication Toolkit” online. Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is listed in the document’s “Acknowledgements.”


Melissa Troutman
Melissa Troutman

Melissa Troutman is a journalist, writer and vocal artist. She began investigating shale gas extraction in 2010 as a newspaper reporter in her hometown of Coudersport, Pennsylvania before co-founding the investigative news nonprofit Public Herald, where she now serves as Executive Director. Melissa co-wrote, -directed and -edited the documentary Triple Divide (2013), which she also narrates with award-winning actor Mark Ruffalo. Follow her on twitter @melissat22.

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