A resident in former Chatham Township whose well has been contaminated with pump-clogging sediment since turbine construction began around his property is now dealing with gasses bubbling up his well casing when he turns his pump on.
Dave Lusk’s multi-generational farm had been providing clean, clear drinking water for many years. But not only does he now have to run his water through an expensive, multi-filter system which still clogs due to the volume of sediment coming up, he also worries about the gasses coming from his well that have caused two cap explosions due to build up that caused flooding in his basement.
The filtration system is one he had help with from former Water Wells First spokesperson Kevin Jakubec in building to filter black shale from his water down to an almost sterile water level. However, the volume of sediment and the fact the aquifer water is saturated with gases is causing difficulty when he turns on his well pump.
At his farm recently, Lusk invited The Chatham Voice to film down his well casing to see the difference of when the pump bringing water from the underground aquifer to his house is off and calm, to when he turns it on and the water can be seen boiling up, with a distinct odour of methane gas.
Lusk said he had to clean up water twice when the cap on his filtration system was blown off due to the amount and pressure of gas passing through the system.
His farm is currently one of several experiencing problems with sediment and gas blow off around his well cap and his filtration system.
While methane gas is a problem in this area, rich with natural gas and oil deposits, Lusk said he has never seen this kind of blow off before and he is concerned. Radon gas is a known risk factor in this area, according to Health Canada. Lusk wonders if his home and his own health are at increased risk.
Lusk tested the air in his house for radon gas, and twice it has exceeded the recommended limit.
According to the World Health Organization, “Radon is a natural radioactive gas without odour, colour or taste. It cannot be detected without special equipment. Radon occurs as a product of uranium decay. Uranium is a natural radioactive material found in varying amounts in all rocks, soil, concrete and bricks.”
Radon exposure over time can lead to lung cancer.
“I don’t drink the water and I don’t cook with it, but I have been showering and doing laundry with it,” Lusk said. ““I’m just wondering where these experts are that Monte McNaughton said we are supposed to get. I’ve never had the Ministry of the Environment here, (Dr. David) Colby has never been here. These guys are all saying there are no problems and its not our fault, but when AECOM (hired by North Kent Wind to investigate well complaints) came here to interview me for well interference when this all started. That’s when I got mad and talked to the cop outside, that’s when the well cap blew off.
“They were here from AECOM and were astounded and taking video, but when I got my report back, there were pictures of my wellhead with all the water that had blown off and they put in the report that my well was in the wrong spot, a low-lying area and was contaminating the aquifer with surface water.”
Lusk said that is simply not true.
“And that’s not stretching the truth, or fibbing a little bit; it’s an outright, 100-per-cent lie,” he added.
Lusk said they were right there when the wellhead was blowing off water for about 40 minutes in an area that he says is not low lying; it’s actually on a bit of a ridge.
“Where are these experts? Every day it’s getting worse and now with the gas in there and radon and whatever else. With winter coming, people are closing their windows, and turning the furnace on, or in my case the wood stove. I know that stuff burns. What else is in it?” the well owner questioned.
“Colby and everyone else is saying the turbines aren’t causing problems with water. Well, you have Kettle Point Black Shale for bedrock, it does cause problems, and we’re living proof.”
Currently, Lusk is without water, as this week his pump, while working, only sputters, even with 28 feet of water in his well casing. The theory is that with all the gas saturated in his water, when he turns on his pump to draw the water into his house, the lower pressure created by the suction releases massive gas bubbles to instantly form and gas lock the feed pipe to the pump.
Dr. Joel Gagnon, professor at the University of Windsor and head of the heavy metals lab at the GLIER Institute, is currently conducting research on the well sediment particles and the unique characteristics of the Kettle Point Black Shale over the aquifer. He has said previously that this area is known for oil and gas exploration and breaking the shale to get to oil and gas exploration.
He said it makes sense that when pile driving occurs into the black shale, it creates cracks which allow gas to bubble up. The well water becomes saturated with gas and creates the pressure that blows the cap off of the wellhead and the indoor filtration system.
“I’ll give you an analogy. Think of it like a can of pop. The aquifer is confined and the water is pressurized and can hold a lot more dissolved gases, like a can of pop is sealed with the CO2 gas dissolved inside. Open the can of pop and the CO2 gas is released. Shake that can of pop, and when you open the seal, pop sprays everywhere as the agitated gas escapes,” Dr. Gagnon explained. “Pumping a well saturated with gas has the same effect as opening a can of pop, only in this case, it’s methane instead of CO2.”
The professor explained well pumps are designed to pump water, not gas and water. When the pump is turned on the trapped gas depressurizes and causes gas bubbles to form in the line, preventing water from going through.
For the past 18 months, Jakubec and Gagnon have worked with some of the most affected residents to address the suspended sediment, natural gas and bacteriological fouling problems these residents have faced, Jakubec noted.
“The main objective of this research is to enable these residents to continue to use their well water, which they prefer to alternate sources of water. The combination of and variations in the water quality impacts by well location makes addressing these issues particularly challenging. This research is ongoing and is being conducted independent of any legal or government actions that might pertain to this matter,” he stated.
For Lusk, he is angry and disappointed that the health and welfare of the residents with well issues is being ignored, he said, and aside from the University of Windsor research, no one is willing to investigate what kind of damage is being done both to their health and to the value of their property.
Samples of his hair that he provided to a private, accredited lab in Toronto show that he has very high levels of cadmium and lead in his system, and now he worries if that doesn’t kill him, the radon gas and methane coming into his house will.
“We’ve tried to warn people that even if their water looks clear, there may still be bad stuff in there. We’ve had hair samples done. I’m just bathing and washing clothes in it and my levels are over the limit. Now with this gas and winter time coming, who knows what the long-term affects are?” Lusk said. “There is going to be proof down the road when cancer rates go up or houses start burning down, learning disabilities with kids; I’m in this for the long haul and not so much concerned with me, but I won’t let people come in here. I don’t want my daughter to come here.”
Lusk said he just doesn’t understand why governments wait until people are dead and buried to admit 40 or 50 years later that they made a mistake.
Lusk said he is still waiting to be contacted by the experts on the Health Hazard Investigation that was promised to Water Wells First by Doug Ford during the provincial election campaign. McNaughton announced the health hazard investigation panel this past summer, however, there has yet to be any public meetings or information from that panel that they have started work.