Mahomet Aquifer consumers were alerted to an underground natural gas leak six miles north of Mahomet through a press release from Spiros Law Friday.
The press release comes a little over a week ahead of an informational meeting that will be hosted by Spiros Law at the Newcomb Township Hall on October 16.
On December 16, 2016, during a routine inspection of a storage facility owned by Peoples Gas, the gas company found natural gas leak around 300 feet below the surface.
Manager of Media Relations Brian Manthey said there are approximately 150 wells within the storage facility owned by Peoples Gas, known as the L. McCord No. 2 well, located on Route 47 just south of County Road 2800 North in rural Mahomet.
According to Manthey, Peoples Gas acted quickly to stop the leak and plug and eliminate the well, taking it completely out of service.
Then, according to Manthey, Peoples Gas began to contact homeowners within a 5000 foot radius of the storage area. Overall, Peoples Gas talked to 33 homeowners over the following months. They tested the private wells of the homeowners who wanted their water tested.
Spiros Law Attorney Matthew Duco said that the four clients he represents were not contacted by Peoples Gas, but instead his clients noticed changes to their water and contacted their water softener or well management personnel who informed them that they had natural gas in their water supply.
The well owners had tell-tale signs of natural gas in their water system. They experienced sputtering water from the faucets and after a shower, they felt a film on their skin.
Additional signs of natural gas in water include gurgling or bubbling noises coming from a well, effervescent gas bubbles in water drawn from the faucet, of sounds similar to that of boiling water coming from plumbing. Water drawn from the faucet will also appear like a white cloud in standing water.
One homeowner could even set their faucet on fire with a torch because of the amount of gas running through the system.
With these signs, Duco said his clients contacted Peoples Gas in March.
As Peoples Gas tested wells, they found five private wells, all located between 100 and 200 feet underground to be contaminated with their natural gas.
There is naturally occurring glacial gas that is in the water supply in Central Illinois, but the tests indicated that the contamination in these wells did, in fact, come from the gas leak by Peoples Gas.
Peoples Gas provided homeowners with gas separators, which filters natural and glacial gas from the water supply. Natural gas has a low solubility. This is what causes the sputtering at the faucet and why gas can be separated from water.
Although five homes were affected by the gas leak, only four of the five homeowners accepted the gas separator from People’s Gas.
“The fifth home said it really wasn’t necessary; they didn’t think it was needed,” Manthey said. “The offer is still out there. If they change their mind, we will certainly accommodate them.”
While Peoples Gas said the water separator makes the water safe to drink and usable, Sprios Law said their four clients are still experiencing unsafe drinking water.
He said although Peoples Gas has provided each household with bottled water for months, “living on bottled water for all of your needs is impossible. You can’t shower with bottled water, you can’t feed your pets with bottled water, you can’t cook and clean with bottled water, you can’t run your dishwasher with bottled water or do your laundry. It’s just not possible.”
Manthey said Peoples Gas is still uncertain of the migration of the natural gas through the system.
“The natural gas over time will dissipate,” he said. “We are looking into some measures to see if we can have that dissipate more quickly.”
He also said Peoples Gas is working with the Illinois EPA to obtain permits to drill some relief wells to vent what remains of the natural gas in the Aquifer.
The Mahomet Daily contacted the Illinois DNR and EPA for comment and additional information on how the Mahomet Aquifer well system works, but has not received a reply yet.
The Mahomet Daily was also not able to get concrete answers on how long natural gas takes to dissipate or what additional testing measures were in place for private wells or the public water system, but Illinois State Senator Chapin Rose said this is exactly why the Illinois Attorney General needs to be involved in this case.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has known about the gas leak for months, and issued a Notice of Violation to Peoples Gas on September 14.
The notice states that Peoples Gas has been ordered to complete the “remedial actions necessary to prevent the loss of recoverable gas and abate damage to fresh water and property” within 30 days.
Peoples Gas said that they notified the US EPA, the Natural Response Center, Illinois DNR, Champaign County Emergency Notification Center, US Department of Transportation, the Natural Response Center responsible for sending out reports to other various state and national agencies like the Center of Disease Control, the Department of Transportation Emergency Management and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agencies in December.
“When we talk about public water, Peoples Gas shouldn’t be the only ones (testing). There should be government agencies doing it and environmental groups,” Duco said. “And obviously, we think on behalf of the homeowners, who People’s Gas admits that they contaminated their water, they should have tested done on their own behalf, not just by People’s Gas.”
Spiros Law said that the homeowners received a copy of the water test, and while the results did include an analysis of the minerals in the water, it did not include the gas analysis.
Duco also believes that if Peoples Gas has results from other wells in the area, those results should be made public.
Because the Sangamon Valley Water District and Village of Mahomet wells are over six miles away from the gas leak, the municipalities were not made aware of the leak prior to the press release this weekend.
Village Administrator Patrick Brown said the Village is monitoring the situation and Sangamon Valley Water District Manager Kerry Gifford said their staff is also monitoring the situation and will release a statement to their customers next week.
Peoples Gas Engineers said they contacted the Champaign County Public Health Department, but “because Mahomet’s and Fisher’s municipalities were so far away, they would not have been affected.”
With the DNR’s involvement, the case has been referred to the Illinois Attorney General.
Rose, who had contact with one homeowner about a month ago, said that as more people come forward and contact his office, he will be able to put together the needed information to help the Attorney General decide if she will take on this case.
“From my perspective, I want to make sure that the Attorney General of the State of Illinois has the most accurate, most reliable, factual information so that we can hopefully ask her to step in with the enforcement powers that she has,” Rose said.
“My office has only heard from one family at this point. We would like other interested parties to contact us so we can get that information on to the Attorney General.”
Should the Attorney General file an enforcement proceeding, Rose would like to see an independent review of the situation.
“The questions I have and that my constituents have for me, like for example, the how, when and where of additional testing, this all speaks to why we need to get the Attorney General’s office into this case on behalf of these folks.”
Rose believes that once the Attorney General gets involved, officials will be able to paint a better picture of how much gas was leaked, where it migrated to, who was affected and how to proceed to clean up the natural gas.
He also said that this situation is why he supported the formation of the Mahomet Aquifer Task Force.
“There are so many different issues that need to be looked at on an ongoing basis that you want to have that authority there on a regular basis to ensure the long-term health of our water supply,” he said.
Homeowners who believe they have a gas leak should also call 911. If a homeowner suspects their water supply has been contaminated with natural gas, they should contact the Champaign County Public Health Department to find out how to have their water supply tested.