For the past 10 months, Bainbridge resident Irvin Mesmer said, he and his wife, Joanne, have been living with the uncertainty of whether they will ever have safe drinking water.
They live on Scotland Drive, near where an Ohio Valley Energy gas and oil well leaked methane gas last December into the aquifer. That leak was cited in the explosion of Richard and Thelma Payne's home on English Drive and in the contamination of water wells in the area.
On Oct. 15, another possible explosion was narrowly averted at the Mesmers' house.
Bainbridge Fire Chief Brian Phan said the Mesmers' well was being treated with a chemical, and it was being pumped out last week by a drilling company. The water well is in the basement and was inadvertently left unvented, he said.
The Mesmers, who were out of town, were notified that their house filled with gas. A neighbor who was feeding the birds outside heard an alarm go off in the house and called the fire department.
When they arrived Oct. 15, firefighters found positive readings for flammable gas, Mr. Phan said. The readings were within explosive levels, he said, and the fire department turned off electrical power and the gas serving the house and vented the house. The water heater or the furnace could have sparked a fire, Mr. Phan said.
Scott Kell, deputy chief of Ohio Division of Natural Resources, Division of Mineral Resources Management, said the division had required Ohio Valley Energy to hire a water-well contractor to clean out wells in the process of reconnecting homes to them in the past several weeks.
Many houses are still using water being trucked in to fill tanks.
The well drillers from Max Herr Well and Pump, of Aurora, removed the vent from the water well in the basement and pumped the well, Mr. Kells said. As the water is removed, it reduces the pressure, he said. The expectation is that the trapped gas will be released, he said.
"They left the water pumping," he said, but the vent was not in place, and the gas collected and began to build up.
After the fire department went in, ODNR officials called Ohio Valley Energy, of Austintown, and the vent was reinstalled, Mr. Kell said. "We have outlined the things that have to be done."
Levels of explosive gas were highest in the basement, with the percentage slightly less upstairs, he said. "We suspended well-reconnection activities until we have better control."
The Scotland Drive well was considered high risk, because it's in the basement and was venting directly into the house, Mr. Kell said.
As of last week, 17 houses in the area were using water from tanks. Some of the 17 families are interested in reconnecting to their water wells, Mr. Kell said.
He said ODNR recommends that Ohio Valley Energy hire a geological technician consultant to monitor the activities.
Forty-six water wells in the area originally were identified with dissolved natural gas, and some was attributed to the English Drive gas well, Mr. Kell said.
Charles Masters, president of Ohio Valley Energy, said the company is rehabilitating the wells. A well driller was hired and is working with the company, he said. "We are going to hire a consultant to see why the procedure is not working, and we'll suspend the rehab to make sure the environment is safe."
The Mesmers said Monday they are thankful that nothing happened with their house. They said their neighbors are living with the same situation.
Mr. Mesmer said chemicals were flushed in his well, possibly for the presence of coliform.
"All it needed was a spark," he said of the possibility of the gas exploding. He said he was told he and his wife were fortunate that they were not home, because they might have accidentally sparked an explosion.
They have been using bottled water for drinking but were still connected to the water well for household uses.
Mr. Mesmer said the water from the well was black Sunday night and "brackish" on Monday. He said he had not been contacted by Ohio Valley Energy or ODNR officials.
"They're going to do something," he said. "Our property values are affected. What kind of life is this?" He likes well water and doesn't really want city water with fluoride in it, he said. "But we have to have water. We haven't had it for 10 months. How long are we going to live this way?"
Ohio Valley Energy is working on plans for installing a Geauga County waterline along Bainbridge Road to English and Scotland drives.
Some residents are reporting black water coming from their water wells, and some have tested for coliform. While some are using their water wells for general purposes, they are using bottled water for drinking.
Gus Saikaly, director of the Geauga County Department of Water Resources, said an Ohio Valley Energy engineer is working on the plans for the waterline that will carry Cleveland water to the area affected by the gas well.
"We're waiting for the plans," Mr. Saikaly said. The line will connect to a line at Fossil Drive on Bainbridge Road, out of Canyon Lakes subdivision, he said.