Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Rural Pa. residents say shale drilling has made water undrinkable for four years; officials disagree

Some residents in the Woodlands (City Data map), a rural community in Butler County in northwest Pennsylvania shale country, have gone four years without running water, mostly because the water they do get is brown or black and smells like rotten eggs, Wallace McKelvey reports for The Patriot News in Harrisburg. Even worse, residents haven't gotten any help from the Department of Environmental Protection, which says there is no link between polluted wells and nearby fracking sites. But residents say the undrinkable water has caused their gardens to wither, sickened pets and caused some people to get cancer.

"DEP says an increase in demand for water stressed the local aquifer that supplies groundwater," McKelvey writes. Communities "surrounded on all sides by newly completed gas wells have been left to fend for themselves. Residents said DEP officials were slow to respond to complaints here and, once inspectors arrived, they provided sporadic and contradictory advice to residents." While representatives from local oil and gas operator Rex Energy did not respond to requests from The Patriot News for comment, several resident have filed lawsuits that are pending.

Residents like Denny "Uncle Denny" Higgins and his family "shower in the state park to conserve the 1,500 gallons of water they buy every two weeks for $100," McKelvey writes. "That's $200 a month for 3,000 gallons—a stark difference from the average monthly water bill in Pennsylvania of about $30 for 3,000 gallons, according to the Pennsylvania Office of Consumer Advocate." (News photo by Dan Gleiter: Stains caused by tainted well water)

Some also worry about the water's impact on property values, McKelvey writes. Norma Jean Kudamik, whose well water has repeatedly changed in color and taste, was diagnosed with lung cancer last August. She told McKelvey, "Our property we paid for all these years is worthless because who in their right mind would want to buy this three-quarter-acre sitting right next to a cesspool?"

"Everyone at the Woodlands has a story of a DEP inspector," McKelvey writes. "To some, they were frank, saying that the resident's suspicions were valid but that there was nothing to be done. Woodlands resident Janet McIntyre said she was told that her water problem was the result of slugs becoming ground up in her pump. Uncle Denny said he was told that because his property was north of the closest well site, it was impossible his well would be impacted. Gas wells have since been drilled north of him, as well. The DEP concluded that nearby wells had nothing to do with Higgins' orange tap water."

Connoquenessing Township, home of the Woodlands, had received $788,846 through Act 13—a fee on drillers that goes to infrastructure projects and social services—by the end of 2014, according to the Public Utility Commission, McKelvey writes. "Butler County received nearly $6 million. Residents of the Woodlands, however, say they haven't seen any of that money: The roads remain unpaved, which in turn complicates ambulance service and requires them to retrieve mail and haul trash to the blacktop as far as a mile from home. In the winter, some throughways become impassable for weeks or months at a time." (Read more)

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