Because natural gas is odorless, colorless and tasteless, the chemical mercaptan is added to it to help detect leaks. On its website, the local gas utility Peoples Natural Gas describes mercaptan as having “a highly recognizable, sulfur-like ‘rotten egg’ odor.” That’s what residents smelled Thursday, December 1, 2016, near the Quest well site drilled in 2015 by Apex Energy in Penn Township. As the smell became overwhelming, people began calling 911.
On December 2nd, the Tribune Review reported that on December 1st a worker moving equipment at the site spilled two ounces of mercaptan, and Apex personnel responded in 15 minutes. Apex said Peoples Natural Gas also responded because they operate the odorizing equipment at the site. The odor remained after the spill was treated with neutralizer and affected soil was removed, so more soil was dug up that Friday. End of story. Or is it?
On December 5th, DEP Complaint Coordinator Kurt Smith returned Protect PT’s call about the incident and said prior to the spill, DEP had been unaware that Apex was using mercaptan at the Quest site. That information was substantiated in a phone call on December 6th with DEP Inspector Supervisor Ed Ritzer. Ritzer added that DEP didn’t have all Preparedness, Prevention and Contingency (PPC) plans for Apex and hadn’t known that gas from the Quest site was going directly into a nearby pipeline owned by Dominion Transmission.
On December 2nd, Apex Energy received a violation notice from DEP with the following:
“Operator failed to prepare and develop a site specific PPC plan prior to storing, using, or generating regulated substances on a well site from the drilling, alteration, production, plugging or other activity associated with a gas well or transporting those regulated substances to, on or from a well site.”
This Sky Truth Alert gives more detail, including the fact that there is a 1,000 gallon mercaptan tank on the site. Visit the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s website for more information about the hazardous material mercaptan, about which the Agency for Toxic Substances says little is known. There’s the potential for 1,000 gallons of mercaptan to be on site and the DEP didn’t know? The DEP says they’re planning doing the same at the Stewart site across from Villa Maria.
Click here for a guide from the Environmental Integrity Project if you see, hear, or smell a spill or leak. In an emergency, get to a safe location and call 911. If you suspect a leak, avoid starting your car or using your cell phone or any other electronic devices that could spark ignition.