Front Porch Blog

Possible Methane Contamination of Drinking Water Wells in Kentucky

“In all my 20 years of working on water quality problems, I have never seen a drinking water well catch on fire and burn continuously for days on end,” Donna Lisenby said in reaction to news reports of a well fire in Pike County, Kentucky.

Ted Withrow of KFTC observes the methane contaminated, flaming well. Photo credit: Sue Tallichet

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth Steering Committee member Ted Withrow contacted Appalachian Voices for assistance with heavy metal sampling for 4 Kentucky families whose wells may be contaminated with methane. One well has flames that shoot more than a foot high out of the top of their well. Families in the area report that the water sometimes runs orange or black, and causes their skin to burn upon contact. Some individuals suspect nearby Excel Number 2 mine to be the source of the contamination. The families reported the water problems to government officials in May, but no action has been taken to help the families.

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and Appalachian Voices have organized the delivery of 30,000 bottles of water, donated by Keeper Springs Natural Spring Water and Nestle Pure Life Purified Water, to the families. This generous donation will hopefully fulfill the families’ water needs and alleviate some financial strain until a permanent solution can be found. Appalachian Voices is providing heavy metal testing to identify any other pollutants in the water.

The fact that many aspects of the coal cycle can damage drinking water supplies is nothing new – underground slurry injections and slurry ponds contaminate water in West Virginia, coal ash from power plants contaminates water in Tennessee and now underground mining operations may be contaminating drinking water wells in Kentucky. As we receive the results of heavy metal tests, we should be able to make progress on identifying the extent of the contamination. Stay tuned to the Front Porch Blog as this story develops.

While Erin prefers to be on rivers rather than at a desk, as our Central Appalachian Program Manager she devotes a lot of time delving through data to make it meaningful to others who care about the health of our waterways.

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