WATERVILLE - A substance used in the natural gas drilling process is discoloring and distorting the texture of spring water running off a Cummings Township sidehill.
Cheryl Sinclair, a geologist for the state Department of Environmental Protection, was collecting suspicious water samples mid-day Tuesday along Route 44, one mile south of Waterville.
The mysterious substance was seen flowing down the slope, under the road and into Pine Creek, said Daniel T. Spadoni, spokesman for DEP's northcentral region office. Officials from another state agency alerted DEP.
Foamy water runs down the side of the mountain along Route 44 one mile south of Waterville Tuesday morning. The tainted water, which the state Department of Environmental Protection is studying, flows into Pine Creek.
"We were notified (Monday) morning by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources," Spadoni said. "There was a white foamy material discharging from a spring down the hill."
Upon learning about the situation, Spadoni said DEP team members were sent to the site in the western part of the county.
Terming it a surfactant, Spadoni said a substance known as Airfoam HD was causing the water run-off to be unnatural in appearance.
Spring water run-off in March isn't unusual, as Sinclair said she planned to collect healthy-looking water from a trickle nearby to compare it to the foamy liquid collected.
Surfactant used to treat Pennsylvania General Energy wells affected the water run-off, which Spadoni said had nothing to do with hydrofracturing.
Workers for the Warren-based energy company are drilling five wells in the area, high above the road, but he said they have yet to reach the point of using highly pressurized water to break the rock underneath the ground.
They were using the whitening substance as a lubricant that lowers the surface tension between air and water, according to Spadoni.
A receptionist answering a Pennsylvania General Energy phone Tuesday afternoon said company officials were not available to comment.
"They're attempting to determine what caused this problem and what actions they can take to stop it," Spadoni said of energy company representatives, with whom DEP members have been communicating.
The only precaution Spadoni recommended to residents is to avoid the suspicious spring water run-off in the area.
"I don't think you would want to drink this discharge," he said.
The substance leaking down the hill isn't listed as dangerous on a Material Safety Data Sheet, according to Spadoni.
"I don't believe there are concerns about drinking water in Waterville at this time," Spadoni said, adding that area residents can continue regularly using tap water in their homes.
The investigation will continue.
"We don't know for sure what its chemical composition is," Spadoni said.
He said DEP will continue to make sure the gas company assists to dissolve the situation.
Spadoni said there may be more than one suspect discharge.