News / USA

Environmental Concerns Rise in Northeastern Pennsylvania as Natural Gas Drilling Spreads

Environmental Concerns Rise in Northeastern Pennsylvania as Natural Gas Drilling Spreads
Environmental Concerns Rise in Northeastern Pennsylvania as Natural Gas Drilling Spreads

Multimedia

Carolyn Weaver

Victoria Switzer and her husband, Jim, are building what they hoped would be their retirement home in the rural hamlet of Dimock, Pennsylvania, in the eastern U.S. When Cabot Oil & Gas offered a lease for the natural gas under their land a few years ago, saying that it might drill a single horizontal well nearby, they weren't worried. 

Switzer says they were told the drilling was an environmentally safe, low-impact process that would also help reduce U.S. dependence on imported fossil fuels. She and her husband didn't know much about the new natural gas boom that was just then arriving in northeastern Pennsylvania, seeking to tap gas in the Marcellus Shale rock formation roughly two kilometers underground.

Victoria Switzer says she and her husband may have to abandon the home they have built in Dimock
Victoria Switzer says she and her husband may have to abandon the home they have built in Dimock

"In a short time, we realized that we were going to have 27 wells within a short walk from the house," Switzer said in an interview. "And as of today, we have 63, with indications that will double in the next two years." She said that the industrial nature of gas drilling, with heavy truck traffic and noise, and occasional wastewater and chemical spills, has transformed their peaceful country life. And now, she says, they are afraid to drink their water – or to let children and animals play in the creek.

The Switzers are among a group of 15 families around Carter Road in Dimock who sued Cabot in November. They allege that the company's drilling polluted their water with chemicals, metals and methane, the main constituent of natural gas, causing explosions as well as gastrointestinal and neurological illness.
 
"The smell and rotten taste, you couldn't take a shower in it because the smell stayed on your skin, you couldn't wash clothes in it," said Ron Carter, who lives with his wife, Jean, about 150 meters from a drilling operation.

Patricia Farnelli with two of her children
Patricia Farnelli with two of her children

Patricia Farnelli said her five children were sick for months, until the family stopped using tap water for drinking or cooking.

"They're fine all day at school, they come home, they get a drink of water, and that's when they got sick," she said. "They would have very, very severe stomach cramps, and double over, and throw up or have diarrhea."

Monica Marta worried about her water when a relative showed her that her tap water could be ignited. "The flame from the jug of water was this high," she said, indicating about half a meter, "and that's what my kids and our family have been drinking."

Several said they first realized something was seriously wrong when Norma Fiorentino's water well blew up on New Year's Day 2009, throwing cement slabs into the air. State investigators found Cabot's drilling had caused gas to migrate into her well. Fiorentino, a widow in her 60s, began buying water or getting it at a natural spring 10 kilometers away.

Other families had similar scares. Sheila Ely was in her bathroom getting ready for church one morning last year.

"The pipes started rattling, and it sounded like they were going to come through the wall," she said. She called emergency numbers at the Pennsylvania Department of Environment Protection. "DEP told us to get out of the house immediately. They said the house could explode."

Ron and Jean Carter said their well was so full of gas at one point that they were warned to open windows before turning on a faucet. Like most of the other families who sued, they are now receiving drinking water deliveries from Cabot, as ordered by the state.

Horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or hydro fracking, as it's also called, shoots thousands of cubic meters of fresh water, mixed with sand and a proprietary blend of more than 200 chemicals, deep underground, first vertically, and then horizontally. The fluid is injected at such high pressure that it cracks open pores in gas-containing shale, freeing small pockets of gas.

Even some Dimock residents who didn't own land or sign leases have been affected by the drilling. Landowners also had little choice, since land ownership often doesn't cover the resources below. Ron Carter said he and his wife were reluctant to sign until Cabot representatives explained that not doing so would mean only that they would be paid a lesser royalty.

"They told us that all of our neighbors had signed and if we didn't, they would go under our land and take the gas anyway," Carter said.

Cabot Gas & Oil’s offices in Dimock, Pennsylvania
Cabot Gas & Oil’s offices in Dimock, Pennsylvania

Cabot Oil & Gas declined requests for interviews. But in a statement responding to the lawsuit, Cabot said it saw no merit in the claims. Industry representatives defend hydro fracking as safe, and contend that methane contamination is a coincidence, since it can also occur naturally.  They say the drilling takes place too far underground to contaminate aquifers. The Dimock plaintiffs respond that there were no problems with their water until the drilling began. According to the DEP, four people have been killed and three injured by explosions caused by migrating gas in the last decade in Pennsylvania. 

Director Josh Fox has documented the environmental effects of new drilling methods, including flammable tap water, across 24 states in his new film "Gasland." He says reports of water contamination occur wherever there is hydro fracking, perhaps because the process uses such great pressure.

"That pressure's got to go somewhere. It might be going back up the well bore," he said, "contaminating the aquifer in that way, since they drill down through the aquifers. Or it could be causing fractures in the earth that go all the way to the surface. It could be hitting natural fractures that already exist."
 
Fox notes that toxic gases like benzene, toluene and hexane also accompany natural gas extraction. But water is the first priority for the Carter Road plaintiffs. Without drinking water, Victoria Switzer says, the house she hoped her grandchildren would visit won't be livable -- or saleable.  "How would you advertise it?" she asks. "'Beautiful house in the country. Bring your own water.'"
 
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection fined Cabot last year for chemical and fuel spills and wastewater discharges. It ordered the company to provide a permanent water solution for families whose wells are polluted. Cabot must also repair defective construction on its gas wells by the end of March or shut them down.

You May Like

Anti-Terror Drills Highlight China’s Push Into Central Asia

China, Russia, several central Asian countries wrap up massive anti terrorism military drills in Inner Mongolia More

Erdogan’s First Step: Secure More Power in New Role in Turkey

Erdogan was sworn in as Turkey's first popularly elected president on Thursday; he picked former foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu as PM More

Pakistan Army Fails to Break Political Deadlock

PM Sharif claims he didn't ask army to defuse crisis; military rejects claim 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.
Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assaulti
X
Daniel Schearf
August 29, 2014 9:30 PM
After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.

AppleAndroid