Posted22 September 2011, by Sam Kusic, The Indiana Gazette, indianagazette.com
CHERRYHILL TOWNSHIP — State police in Indiana are investigating what may be an act of sabotage at a controversial shale-gas well near Yellow Creek State Park.
According to police, someone punched holes in the plastic lining of a containment pit at the Marcellus shale well sometime between 4 p.m. Tuesday and 2 p.m. Wednesday, causing an estimated $3,500 in damage.
Mike Knapp, president of Knapp Acquisitions and Production, land agent and public liaison for the well owner, Kittanning’s MDS Energy, said that whoever is responsible appeared to have blasted about a half-dozen holes in the liner with a shotgun. He or she also pulled up stakes that were holding up a safety fence and used them to punch another half-dozen holes, Knapp said.
The pit is meant to hold the powdery drill cuttings from the bore hole, not the water produced through the hydraulic fracturing process. Knapp said the pit contained some cuttings from when the company began drilling the well earlier in the year — drillers reached a depth of about 380 feet before having to stop — and some rainwater that had collected in it.
Knapp said the company has notified the state Department of Environmental Protection and is awaiting word on how the agency wants the company to proceed.
He said they are taking the incident as a message from someone, given the timing of the incident.
“I would certainly assume (the person responsible is) someone who is not happy about this project,” Knapp said.
On Sept. 9, the Indiana County Zoning Hearing Board issued MDS a special-use permit to drill the well, an approval it needed to resume operations.
The company needed the board’s approval because the well, on a piece of privately owned farmland off Ray Road in Cherryhill Township, falls within a conservation zone around Yellow Creek State Park.
The zone, established under the county’s Special Recreation and Zoning Ordinance, is designed to protect the area around the park from detrimental land uses and industrial encroachment. While gas wells are permitted in conservation zones, they can be drilled only with the board’s approval.
Not realizing that the well was in a conservation zone, or that the zone even existed, MDS began work on the vertical well without the permit. When county officials learned of the operation, they ordered the company to cease until it obtained approval.
This is the first shale-gas well being drilled in one of the conservation zones, and it has tested the ordinance, which was written in the 1970s, well before shale-gas wells were on the horizon.
But despite opposition from county residents and environmental organizations, the board awarded the permit to the company, as long as it follows several conditions it laid out.
Considering that a shotgun appears to have been used, Knapp said the company is worried about the safety of its employees and the landowner. He said the company has hired a security officer who will guard the well site during off hours.