West Branch oil operations

Dimes Energy oil operations are seen from West Branch Road in the town of Allegany in this October 2019 photo.

ALLEGANY — State environmental officials cited Dimes Energy in 2020 for several violations involving the drilling of oil and gas wells in the West Branch Road and Four Mile Road areas of the town of Allegany.

The citations were for 160 separate violations — from leaking oil wells and sedimentation and erosion issues to failure to submit proper paperwork — but none were tied to the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s investigation into what caused the November 2019 explosion of a house on West Branch Road.

However, Dimes hit the community and state’s radar following the blast that destroyed the home of Ron and Betty Jo Volz. As the Volz home had been in the vicinity of the drilling of Dimes’ wells in the West Branch and Four Mile area, neighbors voiced concerns of a connection between the oil well drilling and the explosion.

Although the DEC has had an ongoing investigation of the incident and have monitored Dimes’ wells in that area, the agency currently has not found a connection between the company’s operation and the explosion.

The DEC also has noted the Cattaraugus County Fire Investigation Team had concluded that combustible gas, from unknown sources, was found in the Volz water well and most likely caused the house explosion.

Yet as a result of ongoing monitoring of Dimes wells, the DEC issued fines in August for a number of violations of the operations of those wells over the past year. The issues found by DEC have since been corrected by Dimes.

With the remediations addressed, Dimes announced in December that its employees were back to work in the Allegany area, were developing oil and gas wells again and recently completed a gas pipeline.

When contacted, Eric Firkel, general counsel for Dimes, said there are no current or pending violations filed against Dimes.

“It is true that there were some minor violations noted last summer by the DEC, but we remedied all deficiencies expeditiously,” Firkel said in an email to the Times Herald. “We appreciate the efforts of the DEC and look forward to working with them to maintain the safest and most environmentally sound oil and gas projects in New York state.”

TJ Pignataro of the DEC’s Office of Communications, Region, Buffalo, provided a statement from the agency which summarized violations found with oil and gas wells in Allegany drilled by Dimes before corrective action was taken.

The statement, in part, noted the “DEC executed a consent order in August 2020 to hold Dimes Energy accountable for numerous violations associated with its Cattaraugus County-area oil and gas well operations. In addition, the consent order levies penalties up to $79,000, requires numerous corrective actions at its operations in Cattaraugus County, and includes an Environmental Benefit Project valued at least $60,000 that ensures the proper plugging of three orphan wells in the Allegany community.”

The statement noted DEC inspected Dimes’ oil wells and associated facilities from late 2019 through this past summer, including petroleum bulk storage facilities in Cattaraugus County.

“During these inspections of Dimes’ wells, field operations, and its administrative filings, 160 separate violations were revealed,” the statement said. “These violations included leaking oil wells, and associated pollution to the environment; inadequately identifying its wells, failing to remove pit fluids and cuttings from its well sites, failing to file temporary abandonment request forms, erosion and sedimentation violations, as well as having excessive vegetation and debris at its well sites.

“Dimes’ repeated failures to file timely well drilling and completion reports with DEC, failure to display its required Petroleum Bulk Storage (PBS) certificates, operation without proper gauges on its above-ground storage tanks, an unregistered crude oil tank, uninspected above-ground storage tanks and failure to maintain secondary containment measures, were among the violations settled in the order.”

The statement said that as part of the DEC consent order, Dimes admitted to all of the violations. In addition, DEC required a total assessed penalty of $79,000 and of that amount the company paid a total of $10,000. The statement said if Dimes did not comply with the consent order’s terms, it would have had to pay all or part of the remaining suspended amount, at DEC’s discretion.

The statement further noted the following measures were required to bring Dimes Energy into immediate compliance with New York state’s rigorous environmental laws and regulations governing oil and gas well operations and to help protect the surrounding community:

• Stop leaking wells through repairs or proper plugging measures.

• Replace or repair any equipment contributing to any remaining leaking wells.

• Install and properly maintain erosion and sediment control devices.

• Remove pit fluids and cuttings and complete proper pit reclamation measures.

• Clear and cut vegetation surrounding its wells, in addition to rubbish and debris removal.

• Install proper well identification.

• Submit proof of compliance with all applicable rules and regulations for its PBS facilities and tanks.

• Implement an Environmental Benefit Project (EBP) to ascertain whether three wells previously plugged by another operator in the town of Allegany were plugged as reported to DEC in 2016, and then to properly re-plug these wells in accordance with all DEC rules and regulations.

“As of Jan. 11 ... Dimes has addressed all of the remedial measures to address Division of Mineral Resources violations set forth in Table 2 of the August 2020 Consent Order,” the DEC statement concluded. “Additionally, implementation of the Environmental Benefit Project (EBP) is in its final stages. Dimes has also satisfied each of its obligations under all nine required PBS actions.”

(Contact reporter Kate Day Sager at kates_th@yahoo.com. Follow her on Twitter, @OTHKate)

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