News Feature | October 17, 2014

New Data Out Of Pennsylvania Links Drilling To Water Contamination

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Pennsylvania environmental regulators have released new data on sites where drinking water wells have allegedly been contaminated by drilling wastewater.

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) cited "some 243 cases...since the drilling boom began six years ago. They involve both conventional natural gas wells and unconventional shale gas wells, and environmentalists say the number is disturbing," CBS Pittsburgh reported.

Released under mountain public pressure, the data amounts to a thorough review of information collected by regional DEP offices. "The Associated Press and other news outlets have filed lawsuits and numerous open-records requests during the past several years seeking records of investigations into gas-drilling complaints," the AP reported.

The findings illustrate the downside of drilling often cited by critics and environmentalists.  Drilling proponents say that the practice creates jobs and contributes to the economy.

"In some cases, one drilling operation contaminated the water of multiple wells, with water issues resulting from methane gas contamination, wastewater spills, and wells that simply went dry or undrinkable," ThinkProgress reported.

Pennsylvania regulators recently put a spotlight on an instance of drinking water contamination in Stahlstown.

"For some of the folks living in Stahlstown, clean water was never a problem; their wells produced it. But then another kind of well was drilled nearby, and now they say their water is polluted," CBS Pittsburgh reported in a separate piece.

The contamination was linked to the energy company WPX Appalachia.

“We know what was in the impoundment, and we can trace those same contaminants to the families' water supplies,” Nick Kennedy, of the Mountain Watershed Association, said in the report.

The state's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) provided a disturbing snapshot of what was present in the water.

"The DEP says water tests show high levels of chloride, barium, calcium, magnesium, manganese and strontium in the water supply to [at least three homes]," the report said.

The company released a statement emphasizing that it provided clean water to local families after the incident.

“There is an attorney working with a local activist group that wants to litigate this situation in the media but there is a judicial process and a scientific investigation plan underway, and we will respect and follow those two processes," the company said, per the report. "Our goal is to provide a permanent water solution for the three families.”

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