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 Twists and Turns Aplenty in US Presidential Race

    Even as Americans pause for this week’s Memorial Day holiday, much attention is focused on the presidential contest

    Iran Orders Social Media Sites to Store Data Inside Country

    New requirements are expected to affect the instant messaging app Telegram, which has more than 20 million users inside Iran

    The Struggle With Painkillers: Treating Pain Without Feeding Addiction

    'Wonder drug' pain medications have turned out to be major problem: not only do they run high risk of addicting the user, but they can actually make patients' chronic pain worse, US CDC says

    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.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora