Why We Need Solar and Wind

Drilling in Pennsylvania has damaged the water supply 209 times in last seven years


By Heather Smith

Beaver County Blue via Grist

July 24, 2014 – Whether or not you think that’s alright depends on your perspective. According to Patrick Creighton, those numbers are pretty good – so many oil and natural gas wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania in the past seven years that 209 problem wells is a mere 1 percent of the total. But Creighton happens to be the spokesperson for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a trade group composed of natural gas drillers. So there’s that.

According to Steve Hvozdovich, 209 is a lot. “You are talking about somebody’s drinking water supply.” But then Hvozdovich works for the environmental group Clean Water Action. He would like clean drinking water.

However you feel about the 209 “instances,” that number wasn’t an easy one get. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is legally required to get to the bottom of drilling-related water complaints, report its findings to the owner of the affected property, and issue orders to clean up or fix the damage — all within 45 days of the first complaint.

The report on this process is supposed to be a part of the public record, but when the Post-Gazette and other groups became curious about these reports and where they might be, DEP balked. The reports were too difficult to find, the agency said. They were mixed in with a whole lot of other paperwork. The agency was understaffed, overworked, and underfunded.

All of which was probably true, but still, in the last year, information about the DEP’s attempts to regulate gas and fracking has been, er, leaking out, which the Post-Gazette credits to court rulings and political pressure. While the Post-Gazette got its list of the 209 sites through a public records request, the DEP will post its own official tally of damaged water supplies this month. It will mark the first time the agency has released its official accounting of drilling-related pollution and water loss cases on its website.

What would be useful, now, is more context. What kind of bad thing happened, exactly? (Not all cases are pollution-related — a lot of them have to do with issues of water quantity as well as quality, since drilling for shale gas can take up a lot of water.) Which companies were involved? Were shale gas drillers more likely to cause problems than people who drilled regular, garden-variety oil and gas wells? How did the companies involve fix the problem? Were they fined?

Pennsylvania’s DEP can expect to see a lot more requests for this sort of information as people move past the question of “What’s happening to our water?” and into the questions of “Why is this happening? And should we be freaking out?”

Heather Smith (on Twitter, @strangerworks) is interested in the various ways that humans try to save the environment: past, present, and future.

2 thoughts on “Why We Need Solar and Wind”

  1. This is only a partial list. In Mays issue of Fly Fisherman magazine, 2010, there was an article about the Monongahela River being so polluted from fracking waste water ( Brine ), that Industry filed a complaint with the EPA that the water was unfit for Industrial use. The Clairton Coke Works cooling system was clogging and corroding. The municipal water authority sent the salt water throughout the drinking water system clogging up all dishwashers when the heat cycle was on. The Municipal sewer plant was paid to clean the waste before putting it into the river. They were incapable of taking salt out and straight lined it into the river. They took the money from the drillers. No one went to jail. No fines. Business as usual. Many sewer plants have done the same throughout the state. PaDEP is run by politics and not science. We have to make them honor their mission statement and cut the bullshit ! Maybe some jail time !

  2. We really have no idea how many private wells have been contaminated where high-volume slickwater hydrofracking has been taking place. Most people have no choice but to enter into a non-disclosure agreement of settlement, in which they are gagged from ever talking about it. But, atleast they have enough money to leave their poisoned homestead.
    Then there are those that have been impact, but are unable to prove it. What would you do if you lived in their shoes? So much for “good neighbors”.

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