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

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. More

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

Dropout rate at an all-time high in South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during 3-year civil war More

Tennessee Songbirds Fly Coop Long Before Tornadoes Arrive

Researchers say birds apparently alerted to danger by sounds at frequencies below range of human hearing More

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.
US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportionali
X
Aru Pande
December 19, 2014 1:45 AM
The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportional

The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid