Over the past seven months, Pennsylvania’s Attorney General has received an influx of phone calls from residents alleging that officials at the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) have ignored or covered up drinking water contamination, illness, animal deaths, and other impacts they relate to oil and gas operations.
According to agents within the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), the calls began pouring in after a Public Herald report in February revealed over 100 cases of official misconduct were committed by DEP oil and gas staff during investigations of citizen water complaints since 2004.
Last week, in a historic verdict, a Pennsylvania jury awarded $4.24 million to two families in Dimock, PA who sued a shale gas driller, Cabot Oil and Gas Corp., over negligent drilling that contaminated their drinking water supplies.
Dimock has for years been one the nation's highest-profile cases where shale gas drilling and fracking was suspected to have contaminated water, a claim the oil and gas industry strenuously denied. Controversy over the water quality swirled as state and federal regulators repeatedly flip-flopped over who was responsible for the water contamination — and whether the water might even be safe to drink.
For years, Cabot Oil and Gas has maintained that the problems with the water were simply cosmetic or aesthetic, and that even if the water was not good, their operations in the area had nothing to do with it.
The federal jury's verdict last Thursday represents a legal conclusion that the water was in fact contaminated because of the negligence of the drilling company — no small matter for those who spent years living in a deeply fractured community where emotions over the shale rush have run high and pitted neighbor against neighbor.
The verdict also has broader ramifications for the national debate over shale drilling and water contamination.
The Chichura family has flammable well water, most likely due to a fracking job gone wrong in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna County. Their water well, along with those of four of their neighbors, was allegedly contaminated with methane in the fall of 2011, shortly after Cabot Oil started drilling operations near their home.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) confirmed the Chichuras had methane in their water on September 21, 2011, and advised them to equip their well with a working vent to avoid a possible ignition.
The contamination of wells is not an anomaly. The DEP identified 245 sites potentially contaminated by the fracking industry between 2008 and 2014.
As leaseholders with Cabot, the Chichuras believed the company would take care of them if anything went wrong. “Accidents will happen,” was the family’s thinking when their water first went bad, Elaine Chichura told DeSmog.
On January 9th, Freedom Industries, a company that stores chemicals for the coal industry, spilled 7,500 gallons of crude Methylcyclohexanemethanol (MCHM), a little known, little understood compound into the Elk river. The spill occurred one mile upriver from the water intake that supplies tap water for all of West Virginia's capital city of Charleston.
The thick oily chemical was pumped through the water system and into homes and businesses throughout the area, causing vomiting, skin problems, and diarrhea. Now, nearly two weeks since the disaster was discovered, the water has been deemed “safe to drink,” though water from the tap still releases a sickly sweet chemical odor, especially when heated.
Steven Lipsky's phone was busy on the morning of Christmas Eve. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Inspector General had just released its report concluding the EPA was justified in intervening to protect drinking water from hydraulic fracturing in Weatherford, Texas, despite assertions to the contrary from the oil and gas industry and Congressional Republicans.
In 2010, Mr. Lipsky alerted the agency to his contaminated well water and the fact that he could light his water on fire. An EPA investigation determined that Range Resources' hydraulic fracturing activities caused the contamination.
Six Republican senators had quickly initiated an investigation of the report, questioning the agency's motivation and the validity of its findings.
So does Mr. Lipsky feel vindicated? No, he does not, and he says he won't until the entire story is told and the truth is completely revealed. Additionally, Lipsky wants to see an end to the $3 million defamation lawsuit filed by Range Resources against him.
When I spoke to Lipsky on Christmas day, he told me the findings in the Inspector General report are just the tip of the iceberg. His neighbors are still in a perilous situation and no specific actions are being taken to provide a remedy for explosive contaminates in their water.
Steven Lipsky speaks out about the dangers facing his neighbors:
Here is an abridged version of my interview with Steven Lipsky:
Over 350 concerned citizens turned up at New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s policy summit today to protest his risky plan to allow hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in New York. The state has had a moratorium on the dangerous shale gas drilling technique since 2008, but Governor Cuomo is expected to announce the green lighting of fracking in sections of New York in the coming weeks.
New Yorkers concerned about threats to their drinking water and public health showed up en masse to deliver their message to Cuomo in person at a summit geared toward exploring a possible 2016 run for the White House. The gathering drew several Clinton administration veterans.
CREDO Action and New Yorkers Against Fracking organized the protest “to send a clear message to Gov. Cuomo that if he hopes to count on the support of New Yorkers and environmentalists for a future presidential run, he must say no to fracking New York.”
“Gov. Cuomo, don't frack New York,” said Zack Malitz, Campaign Manager of CREDO Action. “We have a moratorium against fracking in place now, and Gov. Cuomo lifts it at great peril to his political future. If Cuomo wants the support of New Yorkers who care about clean water, their health and the environment when he runs for president in 2016, he should abandon his plan to frack New York.”
David Braun of New Yorkers Against Fracking, a coalition of over 160 organizations across New York that supports a ban on fracking, says that “Governor Cuomo has a choice between dirty fracking and safe renewable energy. We are here on behalf of millions of New Yorkers who want Cuomo to represent the interests of our communities and not those of the oil and gas industry.”
Wake up and smell the frack fluid! But don't ask what's in it, at least not in Ohio, cause it's still not your right to know. Ohio is in the final stages of making an Exxon trojan horse on hydrofracking into state law, and it appears that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) connected Exxon's lawyers with co-sponsors of Ohio Senate Bill 315: at least 33 of the 45 Ohio legislators who co-sponsored SB 315 are ALEC members, and language from portions of the state Senate bill is similar to ALEC's “Disclosure of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Composition Act.” …disclosure of fracking fluids? On behalf of ExxonMobil?!
Reposted with permission from EcoWatch.org (a fantastic site that you should bookmark and visit often)
Authored by Mackenzie Schoonmaker and Mike Dulong from Riverkeeper
Every time the gas industry fracks, the public loses. We forfeit an enormous amount of fresh water from our rivers, lakes and streams, and we get a toxic waste disposal nightmare in return.
Rather than acknowledge these losses and work toward real solutions, the gas industry consistently sidesteps these issues, and falsely claims to have fixed them. Recently, Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon told us: “We heard that we were using too much water, so today we recycle 90% to 100%.” He later stated: “Then you talk about water consumption, and we start to recycle 99%.” Unfortunately, like so many of the industry’s empty promises, this story is not consistent with the reality of how much water the gas industry uses and how much waste it generates.
First, most of the chemically-laced water used for fracking (as much as 85 percent according to Pro Publica reports; other estimates range from 10 to 40 percent), does not return to the surface. Rather, it stays underground, where it can potentially migrate to and pollute fresh water supplies (another serious problem that deserves further discussion). Thus, recycling does not significantly change the amount of fresh water needed to frack a well.
Carnegie Mellon University Professor Jeanne VanBreisen was first to discover high levels of bromides in drinking water sourced from rivers that have received treated fracking wastewater. Bromide is a salt also found in drilling wastewater from fracking operations.
The news is extra worrisome because bromides, when combined with chlorine at water treatment plants, can create bromatestrihalomethanes, which are linked to bladder cancer, miscarriage and still births.
I recently re-watched this 18-minute video produced by Britain’s Ecologist Film Unit profiling the threats posed by hydraulic fracturing for gas in the Marcellus Shale in the eastern U.S. It’s an excellent primer for anyone who wants to get up to speed on this issue. And, as this piece makes clear, the fracking threat and shale gas boom are not confined to the eastern U.S. by a long shot.
In addition to the huge gas rush in the U.S. West, as well as in B.C. and elsewhere in Canada, there is a growing industry effort to bring all the pollution and contamination risks of fracking to Europe too - just beginning in the UK, Poland, France and Germany.
The piece outlines the major threats - many recently profiled by the New York Times in its Drilling Down series - from radioactive wastewater, fracking chemicals and other risks to drinking water and public health posed by shale gas development. It explains the devestating toll that gas drilling has had on families and communities across the eastern U.S. region where the shale gas boom is underway, and the consequences of letting this practice gain acceptance throughout the world.