Pa. woman: Chemicals in my water in drilling area

February 24, 2012 By KEVIN BEGOS , Associated Press

In this Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012 photo, Janet McIntyre sits with stacks of papers with water testing results in her Evans City, Pa. home. McIntyre says state environmental officials refused to do follow-up tests after their lab reported her drinking water contained chemicals that could be from nearby gas drilling. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
(AP) -- A woman says state environmental officials refused to do follow-up tests after their lab reported her drinking water contained chemicals, but it's unclear where the pollutants came from.

At least 10 households in the rural Woodlands community, about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh, in western Pennsylvania, have complained that recent gas drilling impacted their water in different ways.

The Department of Environmental Protection first suggested that Janet McIntyre's well water contained low levels of only one chemical, toluene, a paint thinner. But a review of the DEP tests by The Associated Press found in her water four other volatile organic compounds that can be associated with gas drilling.

After this story was first published, drilling firm Rex Energy Corp. provided a list that shows none of those chemicals was used at its nearby well with a procedure known as hydraulic fracturing, which involves blasting chemical-laced water deep into the ground.

That suggests that Rex may be getting blamed for problems that are not its fault, even as another mystery remains: Others in the community have complained of water that became discolored, smelled and had higher levels of minerals and solids after recent drilling.

Further complicating the situation, other companies have older wells in the same area.

Some anti-drilling activists have suggested that there are major problems in the Woodlands area, but one expert said that the low concentrations shown in the test may not be a health threat and may be unconnected to gas drilling.

Dr. Bernard Goldstein, professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health, said the lack of follow-up tests by the DEP doesn't make sense.

"DEP cannot just simply walk away," Goldstein said.

DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday said on Friday that the low chemical concentrations were not a health risk, and he suggested that the contamination may have come from the agency's laboratory or from abandoned vehicles on or near the property. But Sunday didn't answer why the DEP failed to do follow-up tests if it suspected that its own testing process was contaminated.

Sunday said the agency had conducted enough tests to make an informed, rational decision that the compounds did not come from drilling activity.

McIntyre and other residents say the water problems started about a year ago, after Rex, based in State College, drilled two wells. But a map Rex provided also shows gas wells from other companies in the area, and it noted that the people who have complained are uphill from the nearby gas wells.

Rex has been supplying drinking water to many households but has sent letters notifying them it will no longer deliver water after Feb. 29.

In a statement, Rex said that the wells of residents who have complained are from 2,100 to 4,600 feet from its drilling locations. The company noted that many other homeowners in the area haven't raised complaints or concerns.

Rex also said there are old oil wells in the region that could impact some ground water and there were "no notable differences in water chemistry between pre- and post-drill water quality tests of the water wells in question."

McIntyre's water showed detectable levels of t-Butyl alcohol, acetone, chloromethane, toluene and 1, 3, 5-trimethylbenzene. Some are commonly used in households and other industry, such as toluene.

Goldstein said the multi-chemical mix is what is so unusual, since it suggests either multiple sources of contamination or an industry that uses many different chemicals.

"Where would you get such a strange mixture?" Goldstein asked, adding that if DEP's own laboratory was even a potential source of the chemicals, the agency had the obligation to follow up.

"You've got to pursue the finding," Goldstein said, since if the lab was at fault the variety of chemicals that showed up "makes no sense at all, except a really sloppy lab."

Sunday said an independent peer review of the DEP laboratory found it to be "a well-managed, efficient and highly functional laboratory" that is "driven by a culture of customer service."

McIntyre told the AP that she repeatedly asked a DEP field worker for follow-ups after two tests last summer showed the chemicals and elevated levels of some natural underground compounds such as barium.

"He said no," she said, leaving her feeling that she had no one to turn to for an objective public health opinion.

She also said the chemicals didn't show up on pre-drill water tests.

As drillers have poured into Pennsylvania to tap its vast gas reserves in the Marcellus Shale, a massive rock formation also underlying New York, Ohio and West Virginia, residents and environmentalists have raised concerns over the impact or potential impact to water supplies. Water contamination in Dimock, in northeast Pennsylvania, has riled some homeowners for months, even as others say their water is fine.

State regulators determined that Houston-based Cabot Oil & Gas Co. drilled faulty gas wells that allowed methane to escape into Dimock's aquifer. The company paid heavy fines but denied responsibility; it has been banned from drilling in a 9-square-mile area of Dimock since April 2010.

Another Woodlands resident who complained about dramatic changes in her water over the last year said DEP staff suggested the bad smell was simply from garden slugs in her well, which is 300 feet deep.

"They just insult your intelligence. I don't trust the DEP," said Kim McEvoy, who lives about a mile from McIntyre.

McEvoy said she wants the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate the community. She said she's come to that point because state environmental officials haven't answered her questions.

"Something has happened here," McEvoy said.

Explore further: Animations show extent of Marcellus Shale development


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3.4 / 5 (5) Feb 26, 2012
big oil big money little person little hope
2 / 5 (4) Feb 26, 2012
If drilling were the only thing going on around that area of the country, I might be inclined to agree. However, lots of other toxic brews have been used all over the place.

People tend to forget that Pennsylvania used to be a major oil producer. See http://www.priweb...ia2.html

I'm not absolving the DEP or the fracking company of anything. The problem is proving who did what. That's not a simple thing.
4 / 5 (4) Feb 26, 2012
there is fracking going on here in australia and people around the sites can set their wells on fire that seems like proof to me
2.3 / 5 (6) Feb 26, 2012
there is fracking going on here in australia and people around the sites can set their wells on fire that seems like proof to me

If they can, yes that is evidence that the fracking provided a path for natural gas into the wells.

But this story is about fracking in Pennsylvania, where the gas containing formations are far beneath the aquifer, and they are separated by impermeable rock. Bad drilling practices can introduce pollution where the gas wells pass through the aquifer...but not only are the state inspectors going to come down like a ton of bricks in such a case, it would usually lead to the well being unusable and abandoned before it ever got near to the gas. If something like that happened the contaminants would come from the (bad) casing, not from oil or gas.

Why is the DEP so unwilling to follow up on McIntyre's contaminated water sample? It is hard to take good water samples, and in this case the contaminants could have come from anywhere--except underground.
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 26, 2012
I'd say, the fracking risks are real, because many such a contaminations were reported and even incorporated into local statistics and confirmed with EPA. There is nothing to discuss about.
Recently the earthquake connected with fracking lead to the premature close of all drills in England and Oclahoma.

This is just another reason, why you should urge your politicians for support of cold fusion research, because the sources of cheap and environmentally safe fossil fuels are depleted.
3 / 5 (3) Feb 26, 2012
Hmmm. Maybe I need to explain how the testing is done, and why the DEP is so willing to dismiss this sample as a bad sample.

The water samples are tested using gas chromatography. This requires that the sample be heated--a lot. Chemicals in the water are deposited on beads where they evaporate again. The differences in flow rate through the media separates the chemicals, and peaks may be correlated with known samples.

The process works well for finding radon and arsenic in well water, the common problems in my area (southern NH). But organic contaminants: food, grease, oils from your skin, oil from the ground all get broken up into smaller molecules by the process. So now if you are trying to match something you are looking at hundreds of peaks, and backtracking a contaminated sample is much, much more difficult than starting over with a "clean" sample.

How do they know that this sample was contaminated? Those contaminants only last a few decades underground.
4 / 5 (1) Feb 26, 2012
The process works well for finding radon and arsenic in well water
The explosions from fracking can polute the drinking water by itself, because they can open the underground water to radon and arsenic extracted from crushed granite. You even don't have any foreign chemical pumped into it. After all, we have experience with it already, because the drilling for geothermal plants in Switzerland had lead into same effects.

4 / 5 (4) Feb 26, 2012

For the record, the article refers to the "worst Earthquake in Europe." It was actually the worst Earthquake in CENTRAL Europe, which is a quite different thing. The worst earthquake ever in Europe occurred just off the coast of Portugal, in 1755 and destroyed Lisbon. Well, the worst earthquake even close to modern times. About 3500 years ago, there was a steam explosion as ocean water got into the Santorini volcano. The current island of Santorini is one of several which mark out the caldera from that volcano.

Since the Lisbon Earthquake? Depends on where you draw the line between Europe and Asia, or to turn it around, most of the major earthquakes in the area have been in (modern) Turkey, where three tectonic plates meet. There have been hundreds, if not thousands of severe earthquakes in Turkey since the Basel earthquake.
not rated yet Feb 26, 2012
It has no meaning to speculate about it. The mining of gas from shales is rather desperate way of energy production - especially in the light of fact, the physicists ignore the cold fusion findings for twenty years. This technology is so complex and expensive, its actual profit is disputable anyway. France, Bulgaria and Great Britain already banned it.

not rated yet Feb 26, 2012
4.3 / 5 (6) Feb 27, 2012
But this story is about fracking in Pennsylvania, where the gas containing formations are far beneath the aquifer, and they are separated by impermeable rock. Bad drilling practices can introduce pollution where the gas wells pass through the aquifer...but not only are the state inspectors going to come down like a ton of bricks in such a case, ...

This is but one of a myriad cases of polluted aquifers, streams and rivers in PA following the influx of and attributable to frackers.

And, the PA DEP is handling them with velvet gloves, courtesy of the Koch Bros.'s puppets in Harrisburg.

From personal experience, as a lifelong resident of PA, I can tell that if you want an objective at-arms-length appraisal, you need to get the attention of the EPA, because you are not going to get it from the PA DEP.

5 / 5 (2) Feb 27, 2012
Deep, I saw an interesting piece on KY's PBS about a group fighting a proposed mountaintop removal. It looked hopeless. But as the country people came together they were able to defeat it. It really does take a people, advocates and the EPA to make the change, but it can be done.

First people have to know what is happening. So much of this is done under the fog. Without eyes in all aspects, a person will never know what is happening.

Second is the power of Neighbors. A good across the fence talk with you neighbor can work wonders. Because it will come to a vote and you will want as many as you can get on your side.

Keep the chin up and take em on. Its not a 100 percent done deal.

4.3 / 5 (6) Feb 27, 2012
The irony is that the same voters who put the puppets of the new Robber Barons in power in Harrisburg are also those must likely to settle matters vigilante style if push comes to shove.

PA was once described as being Pittsburgh and Philadelphia with Alabama in between. And, there are plenty of guns in that in between, which is where the frackers are ripping up the forests that hunters flock to and a lot of locals live.

Could get real interesting.
not rated yet Feb 27, 2012
Awesome, Evans City, PA is like 20 minutes away from me. Fracking is major(ly awful) business around here.

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