News / USA

    Black, Foamy Water Worries Fracking Neighbors

    Pennsylvania residents blame illness on natural gas extraction

    Land being excavated to hold waste water from a fracturing operation in Pennsylvania.
    Land being excavated to hold waste water from a fracturing operation in Pennsylvania.

    Multimedia

    Audio
    Rosanne Skirble

    There is a lot of construction near Janet McIntyre's home in southwestern Pennsylvania. It's not new houses, but new industry: 10 gas wells, a compressor station and multiple drilling-waste ponds.

    The state sits atop the nation’s largest deposit of natural gas known as the Marcellus Shale. What concerns McIntyre and her neighbors is an extraction process called hydraulic fracturing or "fracking." It combines deep horizontal and vertical drilling with enormous amounts of water, chemicals and sand.

    Water troubles

    McIntyre never worried about her water before. When she looks out on the wooded rural landscape from her front porch she talks about her well water liked a cherished lost friend.  “We never ran out of water. We never had a problem with our water. It was cold coming out of the spigot just as if you went to a regular spring and got it. It was gorgeous water.”

    Then one night McIntyre got sick. She had a bad headache and vomited. When her husband Fred went for a glass of water and turned on the spigot, it spewed out smelly foam.

    “He hollers back, I think I know why we’re sick," she remembers. "There’s something wrong with our water.”

    The McIntyres stopped drinking the well water.

    Neighbor Kim McEvoy says her water turned black and she got sick too. “My fingernails were growing downward. My hair was falling out. I’d get dizzy.”

    Kim McEvoy and Janet McIntyre, who feel their drinking water has been contaminated by nearby natural gas extraction, do some grassroots organizing around the kitchen table.
    Kim McEvoy and Janet McIntyre, who feel their drinking water has been contaminated by nearby natural gas extraction, do some grassroots organizing around the kitchen table.

    McEvoy and McIntyre complained to the gas company and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

    The gas company gave them bottled water.

    'Unsafe levels'

    Initial tests of McIntyre's well water showed unsafe levels of toluene, a volatile and toxic petrochemical that causes nausea and headaches. McEvoy's well water had arsenic. Now, months later, new company tests say the water is safe to drink, although trace chemicals are still present.  

    Bottled water deliveries end next month.

    The two households get their water from private wells, like three million others who live in rural Pennsylvania. The state has no rules on the location, design, testing or treatment of private drinking-water wells. That means contamination could come from other sources like poor well construction or failing septic systems, or gas migrating naturally from adjacent rock or leaking from abandoned mines.

    But McEvoy thinks the gas companies are responsible too.

    Over the past year she and McIntyre have called on township officials, testified at local hearings, and joined in protests. They want the drilling stopped.

    Fracking chemicals in water

    Fracking is banned in and around the city of Pittsburgh, and it’s under a moratorium in the nearby states of New York and Maryland until health and environmental risks are assessed.

    The battle continues on Capitol Hill. Ohio lawmaker Bob Gibbs, whose state stands to gain jobs and revenue from gas development, backs the industry. In a recent house hearing, Gibbs asked Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection director Michael Krancer about the state’s safety record.

    Local Evans City, Pennsylvania residents picket a local dairy that signed a lease with a gas company to fracture a well on its pastures.
    Local Evans City, Pennsylvania residents picket a local dairy that signed a lease with a gas company to fracture a well on its pastures.

    Krancer testified that fracking has never caused a groundwater contamination problem. “Fracking simply doesn’t do that. And there’s still not a documented case,” he said.

    Gibbs got the same reply from experts in Ohio and Oklahoma.

    But a new draft report released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency disputes those claims. Preliminary results of the three-year federal study in Pavillion, Wyoming, show chemicals associated with hydraulic fracturing gas wells in the area are turning up in the ground water.

    The EPA findings add weight to the complaints of Pennsylvania landowners like Kim McEvoy and Janet McIntyre.

    Closer look

    Steve Hvozdovich, Marcellus Shale Campaign director with the Pennsylvania Chapter of Clean Water Action, advises a closer look at the industry. He says in 2010 alone, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection cited gas drillers 1,200 times for operational violations.



    “Some of those are generic administrative stuff like paperwork. But the other half are for serious things that can lead to environmental problems. We’re talking about improper construction of frack pits. We’re talking about improper disposal of wastewater. We’re talking about improper cement casing jobs which are designed to protect our groundwater aquifers.  We’re talking about venting of hazardous gas. Now those things to me signify that we have some serious issues going on.”

    All this worries University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health professor Bernard Goldstein. He says fracking has already been linked to higher levels of bromide in the water, which is highly toxic.

    He believes fracking might also release more radioactivity and arsenic into groundwater. He advocates for baseline studies before drilling and for taking a more comprehensive look at the Marcellus Shale activity.

    “We know too little. We’re running ahead as if we’re absolutely sure no problem is going to occur without dong the necessary studies. The gas isn’t going away. The question I have is why are we rushing into this?”

    Eyes now are focused on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Beyond its Wyoming report, the EPA is completing a more comprehensive study, requested by Congress in 2010, of the impact hydraulic fracturing might be having on local water supplies. Initial findings are due in 2012.

    In the meantime, Janet McIntyre plans to continue her fight to halt the gas drilling. “I want my water back. I want my air back. They took it from me and I want it back.”

    You May Like

    No More Space Race for US, Rivalry Gives Way to Collaboration

    What began as a struggle for dominance in space between two world powers has changed entirely to one of joint efforts

    Beijing Warns Critics Over South China Sea Dispute

    Official warns critics that the more they challenge China's position regarding disputed territories in one of world’s busiest waterways, the more it will push back

    Move Over Millennials, Here Comes iGeneration

    How the first generation to be born, almost literally, with a smartphone in hand, might change America

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    British Government to Resettle Unaccompanied Child Refugeesi
    X
    Henry Ridgwell
    May 06, 2016 9:24 PM
    After criticism from lawmakers across the political spectrum, the British government has signaled that it will accept thousands of unaccompanied Syrian child refugees who have fled to Europe. It follows a campaign by a group of former Jewish refugees who were given refuge in Britain from Nazi persecution in the 1930s. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video British Government to Resettle Unaccompanied Child Refugees

    After criticism from lawmakers across the political spectrum, the British government has signaled that it will accept thousands of unaccompanied Syrian child refugees who have fled to Europe. It follows a campaign by a group of former Jewish refugees who were given refuge in Britain from Nazi persecution in the 1930s. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Strangers Share Secrets Through Postcards

    Frank Warren owns a million secrets. Strangers from around the world send him postcards with their confessions, their disappointments, and their hopes for the future, all anonymously. He displays his favorites online and in exhibits, and shares them with audiences in sold-out appearances around the globe. As VOA's Julie Taboh reports, what started as a simple social experiment has evolved into a multi-faceted and hugely successful global phenomenon.
    Video

    Video Largest Ground-based Telescope Under Construction

    While NASA's engineers are nearing the final phase of assembling the new James Webb space telescope, scheduled to be deployed in 2018, an international consortium led by the U.S. is laying foundations and building parts for a ground-based telescope, much larger than any other. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Image Recognition Market Seen Doubling by 2020

    From auto tagging on Facebook to self-driving cars, image recognition technology as it exists today is still in its beginning phases, experts say — and will soon change the way users and corporations interact with the physical world. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
    Video

    Video Child Labor in Afghanistan Remains a Problem

    With war still raging in Afghanistan, the country also faces the problem of child labor as families put their school-age children to work to help make ends meet. But, thanks to VOA's Afghan Service, two families whose children had been working in a brick-making factory - to earn their livings and pay off family debts - now have a new lease on life. Zabihullah Ghazi reports.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Troops Recount Firefight Which Killed US Navy SEAL

    A U.S. Navy SEAL killed Tuesday, when Islamic State fighters punched through Kurdish lines in northern Iraq, was part of a quick reaction force sent to extract other U.S. troops trapped by the surprise offensive. VOA's Kawa Omar spoke with Kurdish troops in the town of Telskuf -- the scene of what U.S. officials called a "dynamic firefight."
    Video

    Video British Lawmakers Warn EU Exit Talks Could Last A Decade

    Leaving the European Union would mean difficult negotiations that could take years to complete, according to a bipartisan group of British lawmakers. While the group did not recommend a vote either way, the lawmakers noted trade deals between the EU and non-EU states take between four and nine years on average. Henry Ridgwell reports on the mounting debate over whether Britain should stay or exit the EU as the June vote approaches.
    Video

    Video NASA Astronauts Train for Commercial Space Flights

    Since the last Shuttle flight in 2011, the United States has been relying on Russian rockets to launch fresh crews to the International Space Station. But that may change in the next few years. NASA and several private space companies are developing advanced capsules capable of taking humans into low orbit and beyond. As VOA's George Putic reports, astronauts are already training for commercial spacecraft in flight simulators.
    Video

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    The White House is expressing concern about rising political chaos in Iraq and the impact it could have on the fight against the Islamic State. The U.S. says Iraq needs a stable, central government to help push back the group. But some say Baghdad may not have a unified government any time soon. VOA's White House correspondent Mary Alice Salinas reports.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora