— A gas exploration company is in the process of capping three wells in northern Wayne County.
Newfield Exploration Co. has completed scientific work on the three vertical test wells in Wayne county and will permanently plug those wells in compliance with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection regulations.
A service rig and cementing crew are currently at the sites and will be there for several weeks completing the work, according to Keith Schmidt, senior communications coordinator for Newfield.
Schmidt said Newfield has notified the landowners involved and the appropriate regulatory agencies.
The three wells were drilled in 2010 to test geological formations and the necessary data was acquired, he said. The wells, called Crum, Teeple and Woodlands Management, are located in Damascus and Manchester townships.
Schmidt said Newfield plans to retain its leases in Wayne County. This, he said, in spite of the fact the "Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) has imposed an open-ended moratorium on natural-gas development in the basin while it considers rule-making regarding development."
That issue has been at the heart of the controversy in Wayne County, where the DRBC is seen by some as blocking what they say is needed economic development.
The DRBC controls gas permitting along the Delaware River in New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. That includes Wayne County.
Anti-gas groups, however, say the DRBC has saved Wayne County from unnecessary drilling which they say does not have the scientific data to ensure it is safe. They believe there should not be drilling in this region.
One of the biggest proponents of shale gas drilling is the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance (NWPOA). This group of landowners in northern Wayne County has formed a strong alliance and believe the DRBC is blocking what they feel is necessary exploration and development.
Bob Rutledge, chairman of the NWPOA, said when a company caps a well, it's "just the beginning of the story."
Rutledge said Newfield's permanent capping of the three wells is "the first step in the complete restoration of those three sites."
He added that all three wells were drilled under lease-contract terms negotiated by NWPOA and "which are even stricter and more expensive" than state regulations.
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"Gas drilling compaines are required by law to comply with all rules and regulations set forth in the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Operators Manual," said Rutledge. "They're required to construct the drilling in such a way as to minimize soil erosion and, in the unlikely event of a spill, to keep the spilled material contained on the well pad, which is lined with rubber."
Rutledge said now that Newfield has completed the work, part of the lease agreement is they are required by the NWPOA lease to restore the drill site to their original contours and condition. He said the landowner has "the final say" in how the land will be restored.
"Trees and grass may be planted, fences and stone walls may be replaced and any access road to the site can be picked up and hauled away, or left in place for use by the landowners," said Rutledge. "The final result is a minimal disturbance and, in some cases, an improvement to the property."
Landowner Dale Teeple, whose family farm is located in Manchester Township, said he is looking forward to seeing his land reclaimed and returned to its original condition.
The site had been part of a pasture, he said, and when Newfield prepared the site, the excavating crew scooped up the topsoil covering the area that would be occupied by the access road and well pad and piled that soil to one side. Now that soil will be put back in place.
"I've seen Newfield's engineering plans and drawings for the reclamation work," said Teeple. "According to those plans, once the material from the road and pad have been removed, the topsoil bank at the side of the site will be spread out to restore the original contour of the land. The soil will be fertilized, limed, seeded with a mixture of native grass species, as we requested, and finally, mulched."
Teeple says his understanding is that the location of the plugged well bore will be marked with a metal plate that will be covered with topsoil. The location of the well bore has also been well documented, he said, so the spot can be found at any time should it be necessary.
"Since the very beginning of this test well project, we have had an excellent working relationship with the people of Newfield and everyone of else involved," said Teeple. "We have always had advance notice of every phase of the work and the project has not interfered with our farm operation in any way."
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Vern Crum, who has been working his farm in Damascus Township for half a century, said he has had a similar experience with Newfield. The company drilled a test well in the middle of a hay field on Crum's property and it is also being restored.
"This whole test well business has been a very positive experience," said Crum. "But I'm also quite excited at the thought of getting my land back to where it was. It was in orchardgrass when they started work here, and that's what it will be when they're done. I'll probably grow a crop of corn next year just to get the bumps out of the ground."
Like Teeple, Crum said his experience with Newfield has been positive.
"Whenever they said they were going to do something, the first thing they did was ask me, 'How would you like to see it done?' They were really very cooperative, willing to do whatever I wanted."
Newfield is an independent crude oil and natural gas exploration and production company. Newfield's domestic areas of operation include the Rocky Mountains, mid-continent region and onshore Texas. They also have international operations in Malaysia and China.