The state Department of Environmental Protection is continuing its investigation into a substantial methane leak, which may have bubbled into two streams, near a natural gas drill site in Lycoming County.

The state Department of Environmental Protection is continuing its investigation into a substantial methane leak, which may have bubbled into two streams, near a natural gas drill site in Lycoming County.
A well casing, which is meant to protect groundwater during gas drilling and production, may have breached causing methane to spread from a drill site operated by East Resources in McNett Township, the state environmental regulator (DEP) said on Tuesday.
It appears methane may have also tainted well water in the vicinity, as it entered the local aquifer.
East Resources, a western Pa. oil and gas corporation, has engaged in extensive exploration and drilling in the Commonwealth, W.Va., N.Y., and Colo. The company has three natural gas wells in the area under investigation, which are targeting the Oriskany formation - not the Marcellus Shale.
The company has targeted one well as the possible culprit, DEP reported.
McNett Township is located in the far northeastern corner of Lycoming County, a population of about 200.
In a phone interview with The Wayne Independent on Thursday, East Resources Spokesperson Douglas Mehan said an investigation continues on their end to find “what the root cause may have been.”
Whether a well casing did indeed fail, Mehan said “we don’t know that yet.”
According to DEP, the company is looking into the possibility that a casing failure in one well caused the methane leak.
A well casing is constructed of reinforced steel and concrete, penetrating the earth vertically along the well point, to prevent methane, or anything else, from contaminating groundwater.
“The gut feeling of everybody is that this is very, very rare - a unique incident,” said Mehan.
Wayne County has had no reported environmental issues related to natural gas drilling and production. Industry presence here is practically nonexistent.
But a township in Susquehanna County experienced a similar event in January when methane seeped into a local aquifer, which was also due to a failed well casing, DEP has said.
Compared to the hundreds of thousands of wells drilled in the Commonwealth and the U.S., these events are very isolated, but can happen as the two highlighted here demonstrate, among others reported by DEP and state environmental agencies.
A major component of natural gas, methane is a colorless, odorless gas that is extremely flammable and combustible, especially if it begins to concentrate in an enclosed area. It is considered non-toxic; however, it can cause asphyxiation when it concentrates.
As a precautionary measure, four households in Dimock Township, Susquehanna County were provided with bottled water because methane corrupted their wells.
After DEP began investigating in Lycoming County, East Resources started monitoring 18 private water wells in the vicinity of the methane seep. They also provided bottled water to four homes, since methane entered the local aquifer, said Mehan.
“We suspect methane. ... It appears that it is methane,” he said.
In addition, the company has efforts underway to mitigate the aquifer contamination and restore homeowners’ well water.
“There has been a continuous reduction and in some areas a complete elimination of the detectable presence of natural gas ... around the well,” the company wrote in a statement released Wednesday night.
Mehan added that “it has dissipated phenomenally” after the company took steps to address the issue.
The company is working to restore well water to “safe levels for public health and safety,” he said. They have also been monitoring water quality about one mile out from the troubled natural gas well.
All three wells were fully drilled vertically, but not yet in production since the area lacked natural gas transmission lines, said DEP Spokesperson Daniel Spadoni in a phone interview with The Wayne Independent on Thursday.
Spadoni added that to the best of his knowledge this is the first contamination incident related to natural gas drilling in Lycoming County, which has seen some industry activity of late.
His office is located in Lycoming County.
DEP got word of the incident from a concerned citizen, who reported water discoloration in a nearby tributary and spring.
The state environmental agency later collected water samples from the tributary and spring, sending it to the department’s laboratory in Harrisburg. DEP confirmed bubbling in two Lycoming Creek tributaries on Tuesday, but did not conclusively link this phenomenon to the drill site. Methane creates bubbles in water, as it rises to the surface.
The samples are currently being analyzed.
“I haven’t heard that those samples are back yet,” said Spadoni .
An attempt to contact a DEP spokesperson at the state office regarding the sample results and other matters was unsuccessful by press time on Thursday.