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‘Diarrhea water’

Posted by feww on March 13, 2009

In Dimock, Pennsylvania, drilling for natural gas has clouded the drinking water, sickened people and animals and made their wells flammable. —Report

A glass of water taken from a residential well after the start of natural gas drilling in Dimock, Pennsylvania, March 7, 2009. Dimock is one of hundreds of sites in Pennsylvania where energy companies are now racing to tap the massive Marcellus Shale natural gas formation. But some residents say the drilling has clouded their drinking water, sickened people and animals and made their wells flammable. REUTERS/Tim Shaffer. Image may be subject to copyright.

The following is adapted from a report by Reuters

What people say about the Dimock drilling for Marcellus Shale natural gas

Pat Farnelli whose  children had persistent diarrhea and vomiting  said:  “I was getting excruciating stomach cramps after drinking the water … It felt like an appendicitis attack.”

Geologists :  Marcellus Shale natural gas could potentially provide total U.S. natural gas needs for at least a decade, possibly more.

Observers: What the problem then?

Experts: Oh, the gas cannot be extracted easily because it’s encapsulated  deep inside layers of rock; you need a cocktail of highly toxic chemicals mixed with sand and fluids to drill the rocks [see below for “fracking.”]

Dimock residents: The drilling has clouded our drinking water, sickened our kids and animals and made our wells flammable.”

Energy Industry spokesperson:  The groundwater is safeguarded meticulously. The chemicals used are heavily diluted and pose no health threat.

Residents: What chemicals are you using?

Energy companies: Sorry, that information is proprietary, we can’t disclose what chemicals we use because other companies might copy our work.

Residents: How can we test our drinking waters, if we don’t know what to look for?

Cabot Oil & Gas spokesman Kenneth Komoroski [Cabot has drilled about 30 wells since 2006, 20 of them just last year, Reuters reported]: It is impossible for the drilling to contaminate the groundwater,  how could it I ask you!

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell speaking to Reuters: The state is careful in granting drilling permits. “We are very scrupulous about whether it will have an effect on the groundwater.” It’s safe, it’s safe … I say!

Mark Carmon an official with the Department of Environmental Protection: [they say they tested well water in Dimock houses in February] “We have not seen anything that would be of concern.”

A dozen local interviewed by Reuters: We draw water from a well sunk into an aquifer; two gas wells are within a few hundred yards (meters) of our houses.

Damascus Citizens for Sustainability [a Pennsylvania group opposed to drilling] :  Toxic chemicals have leaked into groundwater at hundreds of natural gas drilling sites in Colorado and New Mexico. How could Pennsylvania be an exception?

Ron and Jean Carter: We were alarmed when the water supply to our trailer home suddenly started to taste and smell foul after Cabot had started drilling 180m away. To protect our grandchild living with us, we managed to scrape together $6,500 for a water purification system.

“It was kind of funny that the water was good in July but after they drilled, it wasn’t,” said Ron Carter.

Tim and Debbie Maye, a truck driver and post office worker: We have three teenage children, and have been drinking and cooking with only bottled water since our well water turned brown in November 2008, shortly after Cabot started drilling.

But we can’t afford bottled water for our animals. Our cats have been losing fur  projectile vomiting because of the contaminated water.  One of  our three horses is also  losing its hair. When I go out to give water to them, “I tell my husband, ‘I’m going out to poison the horses.'”

Methane in the Water

Another byproduct of the drilling in Dimock is methane which has been released into the water supply, which the state regulators and Cabot have  acknowledged.

Local homeowners: We can ignite our well water. Recently, a gas buildup blew the large concrete cap off a well.

Norma Fiorentino, 66, a resident: “The well was capped with six to eight inches of concrete. …  The explosion broke it into three big pieces and blew a huge hole in the ground.”

Hydraulic fracturing [“fracking”]

Environmental groups: Energy companies use a method called  Hydraulic fracturing [aka, hydrofracturing, or fracing pronounced “fracking”] to create fractures  from a borehole al the way down to rock formations by  injecting a toxic mix of chemicals together with water and sand deep into the rock to release the natural gas which is trapped there.

Komoroski, the Cabot spokesman: Of course the “fracking” chemicals are dangerous. But they are only dangerous  in concentrated form. Here [in Pennsylvania,] we use them heavily diluted in the injection fluid.  Further, we inject them into depths of 1,700 to 2,700m (5,000 to 8,000 ft)— well below the normal depth aquifers at 70 to 170m (100 to 500 ft)—and we pump them into the ground inside several layers of steel and concrete, preventing any discharge at levels that could contaminate the groundwater.

FEWW Moderators: Why did the water turn brown, people and animals that drank the water got violently ill, cats lost their fur and horses their hair just after you started fracking? And what say you about the exploding well caps? Please respond.

[This space is reserved for Komoroski‘s reply!]

Komoroski: The Marcellus Shale Committee, a statewide group of energy companies will publish a report on the chemicals that are being injected into the ground.

The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, a Colorado research group: of the 201 “fracking chemicals” we have found in the groundwater about 188 could potentially harm skin, eyes, and sensory organs;  100 could damage the brain and nervous system, and 59 may cause cancer.

Retired schoolteacher Victoria Switzer and her husband, Jimmy: We spent five years building our dream home [nestled on an idyllic wooded hillside,] now we have to share the rural setting with a gas well just a few hundred meters away. How could we fight the wealthy energy companies? Cabot, for one, posted annual revenues of about $1 billion in 2008.

Victoria Switzer: “They are big and we are small and they count on that.” 

6 Responses to “‘Diarrhea water’”

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  5. feww said

    EPA admits water contaminated at gas-drilling fields

  6. feww said

    Gas drillers battle Pennsylvania pollution concerns
    Sun May 3, 2009
    By Jon Hurdle

    HICKORY, Pennsylvania (Reuters) – U.S. energy companies rushing to exploit Pennsylvania’s massive natural gas reserves have launched a public relations campaign to calm fears the bonanza is contaminating water with toxic chemicals.

    Drillers are holding public meetings to assure people the chemicals used to help extract gas from Pennsylvania’s majority share of the Marcellus Shale cannot escape into drinking-water wells.

    Though scientists have yet to find definitive evidence that drilling chemicals have seeped into ground water, there are dozens of anecdotal reports from around the state that water supplies in gas-production areas have been tainted.

    The public outcry threatens to impede exploitation of the 44-million-acre (18-million-hectare) Marcellus Shale, which geologists say might contain enough natural gas to meet U.S. demand for a decade.

    People in gas-drilling areas say their well water has become discolored or foul-smelling; their pets and farm animals have died from drinking it; and their children have suffered from diarrhea and vomiting.

    Bathing in well water can cause rashes and inflammation, and ponds bubble with methane that has escaped during drilling, they say.

    That’s the challenge facing Matt Pitzarella, a spokesman for Texas-based Range Resources Corp who recently told around 150 residents at the Hickory fire hall that new drilling techniques are much less damaging to the landscape than traditional ones, and that energy companies are subject to strict environmental regulations.

    Other companies such as Chief Oil & Gas and Chesapeake Energy Corp have held community meetings.

    Over a dinner of beef stew, baked beans and coleslaw hosted by Range, Pitzarella said the company encased its drilling shafts in layers of steel and concrete to ensure that chemicals used to help fracture the gas-bearing rock cannot escape into aquifers.

    “There are zero reports of chemical contamination of groundwater,” he said.

    Ron Gulla, who said his land has been polluted by Range’s gas drilling, was incredulous.

    “I have never seen such a bunch of liars in my life,” he shouted at Pitzarella, to scattered applause. “You have put me through hell.”

    This is how the battle lines are being drawn in the U.S. struggle to reduce dependence on foreign oil and cut carbon emissions. Marcellus is the largest of the U.S. shale gas reserves, which are trapped in sedimentary beds making it more costly to extract. (For a map of shale reserve estimates, click:


    In rural Clearville, south-central Pennsylvania, Spectra Energy Corp is drilling to establish an underground gas storage facility.

    Sandra McDaniel, 63, said federal authorities forced her, though eminent domain laws, to lease about five acres (2hectares) of her 154 acres to Spectra to build a drilling pad on a wooded hilltop.

    McDaniel watched from the perimeter of the installation as three pipes spewed metallic gray water into plastic-lined pits, one of which was partially covered in a gray crust. As a sulfurous smell wafted from the rig, two tanker trucks marked “residual waste” drove from the site.

    “My land is gone,” she said. “The government took it away, and they have destroyed it.”

    Back in Hickory, Pitzarella acknowledged that water quality was the “No. 1 concern” but denied there was any escape of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

    Drilling injects chemicals thousands of feet below the aquifers, and companies haul away waste water for treatment when the operation is finished, Pitzarella told the meeting.

    Residents say escaped methane has caused some well water to become flammable, and its buildup has led to at least one explosion in a drinking water well. Many people in drilling areas drink only costly bottled water.

    Pennsylvanians say they have not found fracking chemicals in their water only because they have not known what to test for, and because of the cost of testing.

    Although the state’s Department of Environmental Protection publishes a list of 54 chemicals that may be used in fracking, companies won’t disclose what goes into the fluid, calling the information proprietary.

    The composition of fracking fluid has been unregulated since the oil and gas industry won exemptions in 2005 from federal environmental laws including the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act.

    According to the Endocrine Disruption Exchange, a Colorado research group that has investigated the health risks of fracking chemicals, about a third may cause cancer; half could damage the brain and nervous system, and almost 90 percent have the potential to harm skin, eyes and sensory organs.

    Fracking chemicals include benzene, a carcinogen, plus toluene, methanol, and 2-butoxyethylene, a substance that can reduce human fertility and kill embryos, according to Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, a group that opposes drilling.

    Range’s Pitzarella said the chemicals make up only 0.05 percent of the fracking mixture, and that they include unspecified substances commonly used in households such as a friction reducer like that used in contact lenses and a biocide disinfectant used in swimming pools.

    Stephanie Hallowich, 37, a mother of two, said she and her husband Chris moved to the outskirts of Hickory from suburban Pittsburgh 18 months ago for a quiet rural life but are now closely surrounded by four gas wells, a three-acre (1.2 hectare) reservoir containing water for drilling, a liquid extraction plant, and a gas compressor station.

    Concerned about noise, air quality and her children’s health, Hallowich would like to move but can’t believe anyone would buy her house.

    “I don’t want to find out in five years’ time that my kids have cancer,” she said.

    Wayne Smith, 52, a Clearville farmer, said he made about $1 million in royalties over three years from gas taken from under his 105 acres, but he now wishes he never signed the lease and wonders whether tainted water is responsible for the recent deaths of four of his beef cattle, and his own elevated blood-iron level.

    Smith would like to get his water tested for the full range of fracking chemicals but he can’t do that without specifics on the fluid’s composition. “We don’t know what’s in it,” he said. “They won’t tell us.”
    © Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved

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