The Lanphar 1-12 production wells literally caused quite a stink last weekend, according to an Addison resident and township officials.
The Addison Township Fire Department received three complaints from Addison Township residents about a “rotten egg smell,” which was said to be emanating from the wells between Jan. 20 and Jan. 21.
One of these residents was Bill Carroll, who lives on Dequindre Rd. about 1,400 feet to the east of the nearest well. As Carroll and his family were taking a walk around 6 p.m. on the evening of Jan. 20, he said they caught wind of a “gassy” or “rotten egg” smell about 700 feet away from the closest well.
“My family and I high-tailed it back into the house. Once the kids were inside, I got a little closer and confirmed there was a smell coming from the well,” said Carroll. “You feel helpless as a parent. You’re walking on your property with your family and you think you’re in your safe place and all of a sudden, you’re smelling something from a facility that could kill you.”
According to Fire Chief Jerry Morawski, the department was called to Carroll’s home shortly afterward, where it tested the air in front of the home, down Leonard and Dequindre roads, along with the well closest to the family’s home. Morawski said fire personnel received a negative reading at each location. The department’s gas meters read for four specific gases, according to Morawski, which include hydrogen sulfide (H2S), oxygen, propane and methane.
“We went around the wall (that surrounds the well) about 3 to 4 feet from the well and walked completely around it and never got any readings,” Morawski said.
Although the fire department could not confirm the presence of gases or a leak at the location, Morawski said he called the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to the scene as a precautionary measure.
Jack Lanigan, of the MDEQ’s Oil, Gas and Minerals division arrived around 8 p.m. that evening to conduct some secondary testing of the area around the wells.
Although Lanigan said his meters did not register the presence of gases, he did notice a “mild, gassy odor” as he stood near the well located closest to the Carroll’s home.
He immediately called Canada-based Energex Petroleum Inc., the well’s operator, to request that they send someone to the scene.
“We could detect a slight odor at the well. We don’t even know if it was a leak. We looked at the possibility that it could be a leak and had (Energex) call someone to tighten down the fittings at the well head, just in case,” explained Lanigan. “Hydrogen sulfide gas, which is what we were worried about at the site, has an odor threshold that’s (very low). You can actually smell it where the meters won’t detect it, but if the meter doesn’t detect it, then it’s not at a high enough concentration (to be considered a health risk) . . . It’s a nuisance, no doubt about it, but it’s not a health risk.”
On Jan. 23, a representative from Energex arrived at the site and tightened the well’s fittings to ensure everything was secure.
Addison Supervisor Bruce Pearson was notified of this incident and called for a meeting with Lanigan on Jan. 26 to discuss it.
Existing MDEQ compliance issues of the Lanphar 1-12 wells were also discussed at this meeting. Energex is currently considered “out of compliance” with MDEQ standards on eight of its 10 wells, according to Lanigan.
While Lanigan described some of these violations as “paperwork-related,” there are other, more serious violations that he said the MDEQ has been working with Energex on for the past year.
“The biggest (non-compliance) from our standpoint is what we call the ‘plug and produce’ rule. If a well is not used for its permitted use within 12 months, it’s supposed to either be put back into production or plugged. (Energex) currently hasn’t produced from the Addison Township wells for over two years. The operator has applied for (an injection) permit . . . The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) usually takes a long time to make a decision. They have not been producing (using) the well because they’re waiting for this permit, which is beyond their control . . . It doesn’t absolve them from not producing (using) the other wells. Essentially, they have three wells that they could be using, and they’re not, while they’re waiting on word from the EPA on the fourth one,” Lanigan explained.
According to Lanigan, the wells have been “shut-in” and out of operation since Dec. 2015.
Previously, Lanigan also said the well’s emergency phone number posted on the site was found to be a non-working number.
That noncompliance issue has since been resolved by Energex, he added.
While Lanigan told this reporter the MDEQ does have the authority to order Energex to suspend or altogether cease operation of the wells, he added that these options are often considered a last resort, as this would shift the cost of well maintenance and closure from the company onto Michigan taxpayers.
Should the EPA approve Energex’s request for an injection well permit, Lanigan said this would allow the company to produce more easily from its wells and would provide revenue to Energex which would allow it to update the wells and make them compliant– shifting the responsibility of well maintenance and closure off of taxpayers.
“The MDEQ has the power to order a company to cease operation. We’ve done it at other wells . . . (We could also) order Energex to suspend operation, but (Energex would then) lose (its) funding stream… they wouldn’t be (able to make) any money to update those facilities (and make them compliant). We can go ahead and shut them down, but what would that gain us if they can’t (afford to plug the wells)? … Those wells would likely go on the orphan list, in which case the state would take over and plug them. That’s partially done with taxpayer funds, as well. We don’t want to go that route because it costs the taxpayers money to take care of a problem that we’re trying to get the operator to resolve,” Lanigan explained.
A closed meeting is scheduled to be held in Lansing on Feb. 2 between MDEQ and Energex officials, according to Lanigan, to establish a timeline to get Energex in compliance with MDEQ standards and to discuss fines and penalties that could be incurred if that timeline is not followed. “The objective is to get the company 100 percent into full compliance and following our rules and regulations in a timely manner,” Lanigan said.
Energex Petroleum Inc. President Peter Bilodeau did not respond to requests for comment.