BROCKWAY — Clean water advocates in Brockway say they feel as if the battle has been won.
That battle has spanned nearly a decade, starting around 2009 when the Colorado-based company Flatirons Development, LLC bought the mineral rights to land on Brockway’s watershed.
Despite warnings from the borough’s water authority and the team of lawyers it employed in response to the development, the company drilled an unconventional gas well within view of the reservoir from which the town and surrounding areas received their drinking water.
In a public meeting in 2012, when impassioned residents asked “why,” representatives of Flatirons said it was all business — they had leases to access the gas beneath the watershed, pipeline access to get it to market, and other wells drilled successfully in the area showed promise for theirs.
Since drilling on the watershed began, members of the Brockway Borough Municipal Authority had been waiting for something to go wrong.
And in February 2011 it did.
Flatirons drilled into the aquifer to make way for its first Marcellus Shale gas well on the watershed, causing a nearby BBMA artesian water well to go dry for about 29 hours. At that moment, one of the authority’s worst fears were realized.
The fight would continue until around 2016, when DEP received and approved the request to transfer the Flatirons well to Alliance Petroleum Corp.
Of the shift in ownership, Bill Sabatose, president of the Toby Creek Watershed Association, said that Alliance is a good neighbor, who has agreed to keep the existing well in production but has made strides to restore the watershed to its former state. Two sizable water impoundment ponds have been backfilled and planted with trees, the well pad lay quiet and will also be covered and planted when it is no longer producing, and the pipelines and compressor station have been removed.
“I’m not against industry,” Sabatose said as he bent over a sapling recently planted on a 12-acre tract of land once used to impound water for fracking. “But you just can’t do this (fracking) on a watershed.”
Sabatose, who has long been an environmental champion for the region, said that he was particularly incensed by the drilling on the watershed because it was determined that the Rattlesnake and Whetstone creeks that feed the drinking water reservoirs were “exceptional value.”
“There’s no manganese or iron in this water, which makes it one of the purest water sources in the area,” said Sabatose.
He added that the current situation on the watershed is due to the BBMA’s tenacity and persistence to fight a gas company for many years, despite all odds.
While Sabatose believes the fight is over, others like Tino Genevro, of the BBMA, are cautiously optimistic.
“The new company says they’re not interested in drilling anymore, so we’re happy about that,” Genevro said. “It’s taken a lot of hard work to get this to happen.”
Genevro added that despite the calm, the authority is retaining its legal counsel and continues to keep an eye on the happenings on its watershed.
“When it happens, all you can do is use every avenue you can to stop it,” Genevro said. “You just don’t give up the fight.”