ALLEGANY — A spokesman with Dimes Energy reported Thursday that employees with the company are back to work developing oil and gas wells and operating a recently completed gas pipeline in the Four Mile and West Branch Road areas
Areas off of the two roads in the town of Allegany have been the site of Dimes’ drilling of oil wells over the past few years. The area caught the attention of the surrounding community when Ron and Betty Jo Volz’s house on West Branch was destroyed by an explosion in November 2019. Over the past year, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) officials have conducted an ongoing investigation of the wells near the former Volz residence to determine if there was a connection.
In addition, the DEC is monitoring Dimes’ oil operations in the area. The Volzes have moved to another home in the community, but have obtained legal counsel in the hope that the cause of the blast will eventually be determined.
Attorney Eric Firkel, general counsel to Dimes Energy, said that over the past year, Dimes has worked with the DEC to investigate the Volz incident. Dimes’ former president, Michel Piette, is no longer with the company, which is now primarily run by Paul Ramirez of Scottsdale, Ariz. and Eric Foss of Montreal, Canada.
“We are back to work, developing oil and gas wells in the area and working in conjunction with the DEC to ensure our operations are as safe as possible,” Firkel said. “On the Volz incident, it has been (12) months and no evidence has been presented that Dimes’ operations had anything to do with the explosion. We are glad that no one was harmed and wish Mr. and Mrs. Volz the best.”
Firkel said the company wants to note “that this incident highlights the importance of properly venting” water wells.
“The Volz home and many others in this region are on historical oil fields, and it is very important to ensure that homeowners take all steps necessary to ensure their safety, particularly with older water wells that were not installed up to current building codes,” he said.
DEC stated in November, however, that, “Methane detection was recently performed on the former Volz water well and no gas was detected.”
TJ Pignataro of the DEC’s Office of Communications, Region 9 in Buffalo, also provided updates from the agency on its oversight of Dimes’ field operations.
Agency officials said the investigation of the Volz house explosion is ongoing.
“Since Nov. 18, 2019, DEC has checked 15 residential water wells for combustible gas in the Four Mile, West Branch and Boulder Ridge Road areas. Some of these water wells have been checked by DEC on more than one occasion. The meter DEC used checks for all combustible gases, not just methane. Three of the 15 water wells had detectable levels of combustible gas; the Volz water well was among these. None of the other water wells checked by DEC in these areas is constructed in the same manner as the Volz water well.”
The statement further noted that “at the time of the house explosion, the Volz well indicated a substantial amount of combustible gas. Three months after the explosion and continuing to the present time, no combustible gas has been detected in the Volz water well.”
In addition, DEC said, the Cattaraugus County Fire Investigation Team “previously concluded that combustible gas from the Volz water well is the most likely cause of the Volz house explosion. DEC is still investigating the incident and continues to evaluate potential sources of the combustible gas in the Volz water well.”
In providing additional comments on Dimes, Firkel said the company is now developing two additional leases in the area and, through the pipeline, will be able to transport natural gas to market.
“The gas is actually going to hook up to a Northern Pipeline line and go to the Elkhorn processing plant in Lewis Run, Pennsylvania,” Firkel explained. “There are already existing pipelines they’re going to be tying into … so this is actually a good move for the guys going forward.”
He noted oil continues to be transported by tankers from the wells to the American Refining Group in Bradford, Pa.
Firkel also commented on other leases in that area.
“We actually leased the property that was very close to where the house (exploded), but we never developed it,” he said. “When everything happened we decided we would not go forward and develop that property.”
He said one of the reasons to turn down development in that area came from Dimes’ investigation that revealed three wells that were plugged in very close vicinity to the Volz property.
“Given that we didn’t know the integrity of that plugging and the prior development we steered clear of that entire area,” he stated.
Firkel said Dimes has worked in conjunction with the DEC and has invested “tens of thousands of dollars” to open and replug those three wells.
He said the recent development and construction of the pipeline has provided jobs for six employees.
“Now that it’s completed it will allow us to expand our operations,” he added. “Dimes will have two additional full-time people who will work on operations day to day. And the pipeline, and sale of gas, will make the projects more economically viable.”
Firkel said the overall development of that area employs 40 to 60 workers, including subcontractors, at any given time.