Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Water Fouled by Gas Drilling Triggers Lawsuits

The shale gas drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has already been blamed for the contamination of drinking water in several states, including Pennsylvania. In the northern tier of PA bordering New York, the once clean water wells of residents are now contaminated by methane gas and toxic chemicals after nearby drilling began in the the Marcellus Shale.

Well water contamination is attributed to extensive fracking, in which multiple horizontal channels are drilled in each mile-deep vertical well and the underground shale is fractured under pressure using millions of gallons of water containing sand and toxic chemicals.

Residents are forced to live with polluted well water for drinking, washing dishes and clothes, and bathing. Some are suffering from illnesses attributed to the polluted water. Their wells and land are spoiled, making their homes practically worthless and impossible to sell. Many now feel like prisoners in their own home. Tragic!

Lawsuits have been filed. Fifteen residents of Dimock PA have sued the Houston based Cabot Oil and Gas Company, claiming the company has allowed methane and metals to seep into drinking water wells, failed to uphold terms of its contracts with landowners, and acted fraudulently when it said that the drilling process, including the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing, could not contaminate groundwater and posed no harm to the people who live there.

"We've been lied to, we've been pushed around, and enough is enough," said Julie Sautner, whose drinking water began showing high levels of methane, iron and aluminum and who is receiving fresh water deliveries from Cabot. "We need to push back."

The lawsuit, filed by the New York City-based law firm Jacob D. Fuchsberg and two other firms based in Philadelphia, Pa., and Buffalo, N.Y., did not specify what monetary damages would be sought from Cabot.

Pennsylvania's top environmental regulator says the state will sue Cabot Oil & Gas unless it agrees to pay nearly $12 million to extend a public water line to at least 18 residents whose water wells have been contaminated with methane gas.

Environmental Secretary John Hanger accused Cabot of reneging on its promises to the residents of Dimock, a small town in Susquehanna County, where tainted wells have raised concerns nationwide about the environmental and health consequences of gas drilling.

"We have had people here in Pennsylvania ... without safe drinking water for close to two years. That is totally, totally unacceptable. It is reprehensible," Hanger told a news conference packed with residents and media. "We're going to take decisive action now because we cannot possibly wait any longer."

Another lawsuit was filed against the Houston-based Southwestern Energy Co. claiming that a faulty gas well they drilled leaked toxic fracking fluid into local groundwater in northeastern Pennsylvania's Susquehanna County, exposing residents to dangerous chemicals and sickening a child.

The lawsuit—one of the first in the nation to link hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to tainted groundwater—said the well's cement casing was defective. It also cites spills of industrial waste, diesel fuel and other hazardous substances.
Water wells became contaminated with high levels of barium, manganese and strontium. The contaminated water wells are less than 2,000 feet from the gas well.

The plaintiffs seek monetary damages, environmental cleanup and medical monitoring. The suit said the child who has been sickened has shown neurological symptoms "consistent with toxic exposure to heavy metals."

Fortunately, the New York state senate passed a suspension of fracking permits in a bill sponsored by Sen. Antoine Thompson. It awaits approval by the Assembly and the Governor. To take action, contact Assembly Speaker Silver and your Assembly member by clicking here.

To a Pennsylvania resident who had explosive levels of natural gas in his house from well contamination, and now lives with a huge water tank out front, New York's delay is a good thing. "I used to think you weren't very smart in New York, waiting like you did," he said. "But I think you're the smart ones now."

Watch an excellent segment of the PBS program, Need to Know, entitled "The Price of Gas", below, to get a feel of the problems arising from fracking elsewhere, to learn about the "Halliburton loophole" which in 2005 exempted fracking from federal regulations imposed by the Safe Drinking Water Act despite earlier concerns raised by an EPA whistleblower, to see how poorly the process is regulated by some states and how harmful this can be to local residents.

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