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

Russia Names US NGO 'Undesirable'

Prosecutors determine activities of National Endowment for Democracy to be 'undesirable,' paving the way for it to be outlawed on Russian territory More

Erdogan Vows 'Anti-Terror' Campaign in Syria, Iraq

Erdogan expressed confidence the 'necessary steps' will be taken by NATO leaders, who will meet Tuesday at Turkey's request More

North Korea: 'No Interest at All' in Nuke Deal

Senior US envoy Sydney Seiler visits Beijing Tuesday for talks on how to revive the stalled six-party nuclear talks with North Korea 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 Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Wini
X
July 28, 2015 12:21 AM
The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Obama Encourages Kenya to Fix Cultures of Corruption, Discrimination

President Barack Obama bid farewell to Kenya Sunday with a major speech at as stadium outside the capital Nairobi where he called on Kenyans to change the cultures of corruption and discrimination that can hold society back. VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video California Towns Welcome Special Olympics Athletes

Cities and towns in Southern California are greeting thousands of athletes who are arriving for Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The games will run from July 25th through August 2nd. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, where athletes from Namibia, Singapore and Tanzania got a rousing welcome from local residents.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.
Video

Video Hoverbike Flying Toward Reality

Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality: U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video As Japan Expands Defense Role, Protests Follow

The Japanese government is moving forward with a controversial security bill that would authorize the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War II. Leaders say it is critical to defend against rising threats from China and North Korea. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Japan on the big changes ahead, and the opposition they are drawing.
Video

Video Replacing Poppies with Coffee in Myanmar

The remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to the second-largest opium-producing region in the world. After a drop during the 2000s, production surged in the past eight years to feed an increasing demand for heroin in China. But farmers are now making less on the crop, and the U.N. is hoping many will make the switch to growing coffee. Daniel de Carteret reports for VOA from Taunggyi.

VOA Blogs