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

Hostage Crisis Could Divide Japan Over Plans to Boost Military

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday the government is working closely with the Jordanian government to secure the release of remaining Japanese hostage Kenji Goto More

Video Brussels Shaken as New Greek Leader Challenges Europe’s Austerity Drive

Country's youngest ever PM Alexis Tsipras, 40, sworn in Monday and says he will restore dignity to Greece by ending spending cuts More

Multimedia National Geographic Photo Camps Empower Youth

Annual mentoring program's mission is to give young people a voice to tell their own stories through photography 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.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid