On the eve of a Congressional hearing on gas drilling, PennEnvironment today released a new short film in which individual Pennsylvanians explain how gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale has contaminated their drinking water, air, and quality of life.
“All across Pennsylvania, parents, farmers, foresters and vacationers have experienced polluted drinking water supplies, toxic air emissions, and the destruction of our public lands caused by Marcellus Shale gas drilling,” said Erika Staaf, PennEnvironment’s clean water advocate. “It’s time the nation heard their stories.”
The film documents the experiences of those such as Darrell Smitsky, a resident of southwestern Pennsylvania, who saw the water from his private well turn brown and test positive for heavy metals soon after hydraulic fracturing began on his neighbor’s property across the street. June Chappel, another resident of southwestern Pennsylvania, endured living near a toxic wastewater impoundment pit on her next door neighbor’s property—so close that it forced her family out of their house for a period of time.
Environment America, of which PennEnvironment is a state affiliate, is releasing the film nationally before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and its Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife, convene a joint hearing on the impacts of gas drilling on Tuesday. The 20-minute film, entitled “Marcellus Shale Stories,” can be viewed at http://www.pennenvironment.org/marcellus-shale-video-full or http://www.pennenvironment.org/marcellus-shale-videos.
Deep-well horizontal hydraulic fracturing, the process used to extract gas from the Marcellus Shale, has be shown to pose significant risks to public health and the environment at every stage of the process, from surface and groundwater contamination to air pollution and wellhead explosions. Since 2004, companies have drilled more than 4,300 hydraulic fracturing wells in Pennsylvania and the state has issued permits for thousands more. Incidents and accidents that damage the environment and put public health at risk have already occurred.
- In September 2009, Cabot Oil and Gas caused three spills in Dimock Township, Pennsylvania, in less than a week, dumping 8,000 gallons of fracturing fluid components into Stevens Creek and a nearby wetland.
- Wastewater from Marcellus Shale gas wells contributed to the contamination of the Monongahela River, a drinking water supply for more than 300,000 people near Pittsburgh, when undertreated wastewater was discharged into the river.
- A 2010 EOG well blowout in Clearfield County spilled 35,000 gallons of wastewater, some of which reached the Little Laurel Run, a stream that feeds the Susquehanna River.
- In May 2010, when a fracturing wastewater pit owned by East Resources leaked into a farm field, the state Department of Agriculture was forced to quarantine 28 cattle exposed to the fluid to prevent any contaminated meat from reaching the market.
- The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection recorded more than 1,000 violations of regulations intended to protect water quality at gas drilling sites between 2008 and August 2010.
Other states, including Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Texas have faced similar incidents due to gas extraction. Now the oil and gas industry is showing keen interest in expanding hydraulic fracturing in several other states, including New York, California, Maryland and North Carolina. Yet the industry has won exemptions for gas drilling from several environmental statutes.
“Absent strong national safeguards for our air, water, and land, the pattern of pollution in Pennsylvania is likely coming to you soon,” warned John Rumpler, senior attorney for Environment America.
PennEnvironment is urging several steps to protect drinking water and the environment from the dangers of gas drilling, including:
- Keeping sensitive areas – including drinking water supplies, parks and forests – off-limits to gas drilling operations.
- Barring wastewater storage and disposal methods which threaten drinking water, including open-air pits and discharge of contaminated wastewater to sewage treatment plants.
- Increasing oversight of gas companies and hydraulic fracturing and providing enough funding to state agencies to do so; increasing penalties and bonding requirements for drilling operators to provide a meaningful incentive for companies to comply with state laws.
- Applying the nation’s core public health and environmental laws to gas drilling, closing the existing loopholes to gas and oil drilling that have eroded the laws’ ability to regulate this dangerous activity.
Several government forums are scheduled to consider the risks of gas drilling this week. In addition to Tuesday’s Senate hearing, the U.S. House science committee has scheduled its own hearing for Thursday, April 14th. Finally, Friday marks the end of the public comment period on gas drilling at the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC). With the drinking water supplies of more than 15 million residents at stake, PennEnvironment and its allies are planning to deliver a record-breaking number of comments to the DRBC.
 Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, DEP Fines Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. $56,650 for Susquehanna County Spills (news release), 22 October 2009.
 Joaquin Sapien, “With Natural Gas Drilling Boom, Pennsylvania Faces an Onslaught of Wastewater,” Pro Publica, 3 October 2009.
 Tom Barnes, “2 Drillers Fined for Pennsylvania Gas Well Blowout,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 14 July 2010.
 Nicholas Kusnetz, “A Fracking First in Pennsylvania: Cattle Quarantine,” Pro Publica, 2 July 2010.