Weathersfield Residents Angry over Halcon Flaring Well
WARREN, Ohio -- Wildlife has fled. Pets are afraid to go outside. Residents are concerned that their health is at risk and fear their property values have plummeted.
"We've gone to hell in a hand basket," declared Sheldon Funk, a resident of the Westwood Lake Park, a mobile home community in Weathersfield Township that lies in the shadow of Halcon Energy's Kibler H1 well.
Since Saturday, a bright orange flame has shot upward from the well site across Westwood Lake, emitting a loud noise that residents say keeps them awake at night.
The process, known as "flaring," is a routine procedure used to relieve pressure in gas wells as they are tested. In a statement, Halcon has said that the test could last about two weeks and the noise is temporary. The company also noted that representatives from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources visited the site and found no problems at the well.
That didn’t allay the concerns of the 20 or so residents of the Westwood Lake neighborhood who packed the meeting room of the Board of Trumbull County Commissioners Wednesday to make their voices heard.
Those who live in the park are concerned about the noise and that the gas burned at the well has the potential to cause health problems.
"We're like a bunch of guinea pigs," Earl Patch declared. "We need to find out what they are putting in the air and quit playing guessing games. We need to know."
Patch said he could smell the methane and has seen clouds of gas discharged at the site at 2:30 in the morning. "There's a lot of chemicals out there that we're breathing each and every day,” he said, “that maybe 10 years down the road are going to have a serious effect on us."
The flaring is also having an effect on wildlife at the lake, Funk noted. Swans, ducks and blue heron have fled. A neighbor whose house is on the market was offered just $5,000, he related
"What's happened to our property values?" he asked rhetorically.
Commissioners passed a resolution Wednesday that requests the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to monitor the air quality on every hydraulic fracturing site in Trumbull County.
The resolution, added Commissioner Paul Heltzel, asks the Ohio EPA to furnish specific data on each of the wells.
Funk inquired whether the commissioners have jurisdiction to impose a noise ordinance that could prevent such a situation from recurring. "My guess is that that's something that has to be handled by the township," Heltzel replied, but commissioners agreed to have the prosecutor's office review the law.
The noise is so bad, Funk continued, that it would be impossible to hear a warning siren to alert residents of a tornado or other emergency. "Let's get this investigated and make it a priority if you can," he urged.
Commissioner Frank Fuda noted that this is the first well in Trumbull County drilled close – in this case just more than 530 feet – to a densely populated area. "Something may have to be done to adjust that," he offered.
Fuda also reported that a representative from Halcon was invited to attend the meeting, but did not. However, Halcon spokesman Vince Bevacqua said that Halcon never committed to sending a representative to the commissioners meeting Wednesday.
"I want to know why was this put there in the first place," demanded Pat McCrudden, a resident of the park who lives closest to the well. "It's been horrific for all of us."
At night, the bright lights from the well shine through her bedroom, keeping her awake.
Some 800 people live in the neighborhood, McCrudden said, and they would have preferred that the well had been positioned further back on the far side of the Kibler property.
Fuda stated that the state of Ohio regulates the oil and gas industry and commissioners have no authority to stop a well from being developed in areas that are privately leased. The first point of contact, the commissioner said, should be the district's state representatives or senators.
What irks McCrudden most, she said, is that Halcon didn't inform the neighborhood of what their activities would consist of.
Activist John Williams told commissioners that there are alternatives to flaring, such as well sites using green completion equipment. In West Virginia, for example, drillers use such equipment voluntarily.
"The only problem is that it costs $180,000," he said.
Funk said that he's not taking a stand against the industry, but noted he wants to see its activities run safely.
"I'm very happy to see Halcon here -- they're bringing jobs," Funk said. "But at what cost?"
Copyright 2013 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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