Water Wells Contaminated by Drilling & Fracking Concerns in Penna.

by Duane Nichols on August 4, 2020

Bottled water transported regularly

A decade of water woes in Butler County, Pennsylvania

From an Article by Don Hopey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 2, 2020

The Woodlands community in Butler County PA has dealt with water woes for a decade.

On a steamy Monday evening in July, just as they have done every other Monday for too long, Janet and Fred McIntyre unlock the double side doors of the White Oak Springs Presbyterian Church and wait for the first SUV or pickup truck to back into the short driveway.

Soon a line of vehicles forms along Shannon Road. They come for the water. They are residents of the Woodlands, an unincorporated, isolated rural community in Connoquenessing Township, Butler County, 35 miles north of Pittsburgh where 50 or 60 of the 200 homes have been without potable water for nearly a decade.

Their well water turned orange or brown or cloudy or contaminated in 2011, shortly after State College-based Rex Energy began drilling and fracking multiple gas wells into the Marcellus Shale.

Danielle Griffin has lived in the Woodlands for all of her 36 years and stopped by the church to pick up water for her family of six. As the gallon plastic water jugs, six to a box, were loaded into her vehicle, she said her family’s well water still has “particles” suspended in it.

“I just don’t trust it, and it gets old,” Ms. Griffin said. “We’re stuck in a hard place. We’ve had our animals get sick drinking the water and our pet hamsters developed tumors. It’s not a good situation. A lot of people are tired of it.”

Ms. McIntyre said the church’s “Water for the Woodlands” program, which for the last eight years has bought and distributed 400-500 gallons of water each week with few exceptions, has been a godsend for her community. But she and many others wonder why a permanent fix for the Woodlands’ water problems can’t seem to find traction.

“The county has received millions of dollars in impact fees from gas drilling over the years,” Ms. McIntyre said. “Why couldn’t some of that go to put public water in our homes? But it never happens. We just keep getting put off to the side, put on a back burner.”

The McIntyres were one of nine Woodlands families to file a lawsuit alleging Rex ruined their water wells, and the company settled their claims in April 2018 for $159,000. Each family received between $16,250-$27,125, according to spending disclosures Rex was required to make when it filed for bankruptcy in May 2018.

The money is nice, but it doesn’t solve the bigger problem. “We just want to turn on our faucet and have good water come out,” she said. “We’ve lived through enough.”

Since 2011, when the state first began collecting impact fees for each shale gas well drilled, the Public Utility Commission has collected almost $1.5 billion. It has distributed $16.8 million of that to Butler County, including $2.1 million last month. Connoquenessing Township has received about $1.8 million over the past nine years, including $209,511 in July.

But none of that money has found its way to solving the water problems of the Woodlands, a 100-acre swath of forests, fields and mostly unpaved roads originally established more than 50 years ago by Pittsburghers as a hunting and fishing retreat.

When that venture went belly up, the land was divided into smaller parcels and sold at a sheriff’s sale. The new property owners, mostly working poor, built houses or moved in double-wide trailers and dug water wells of varying depths.

Residents say the well water was good until the shale gas drilling started. Beginning in 2009, Rex Energy drilled 32 wells on 12 pads within 2 miles of the Woodlands and had permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection to drill 32 more.

Woodlands residents complained that the well drilling and fracking caused severe nosebleeds, skin rashes and respiratory problems, and that the water was unusable for drinking, cooking and bathing. But water quality tests by Rex Energy and the PA-DEP were inconclusive in establishing a connection between the drilling and the bad water.

That assessment didn’t change after two of the nearby shale gas wells were later discovered to have bad “casings” — the concrete sleeves that are supposed to prevent drilling and fracking fluids and gas from escaping the wells and contaminating underground aquifers.

Jenna Alexander, daughter of Janet McIntyre and a volunteer at the water distribution site, lived in the Woodlands but moved out of the area because of the water problems. She first became aware of the problems 10 years ago when she noticed an oily sheen on well water she was using to wash the baby bottles for her then 9-month-old daughter, Peyton.

“Our water went from great water to not being able to drink it,” Ms. Alexander said. “I knew that it wasn’t safe or healthy for a baby to even bathe in it, let alone drink it.”

John Stolz, a professor of biological sciences and director of the Center for Environmental Research and Education at Duquesne University, who has studied the Woodlands’ water issues, said the casing failures may have allowed escaped fluids and gas to pressurize underground formations and push around other contaminants including iron, manganese, oil and gas from shallow old and abandoned wells in the area.

“My 2015 study shows it’s not so much the fracking fluids that have contaminated the water wells, but it’s still the shale gas wells that have damaged the Woodlands’ water supply,” Mr. Stolz said.

Rex Energy went bankrupt in 2018, but its assets were purchased for $600 million by PennEnergy Resources, and Mr. Stolz said additional shale gas drilling in the area could exacerbate the Woodlands water problem.

Mr. Stolz said the county and township impact fee money should be used to extend public waterlines and connections into the Woodlands, a project that would cost approximately $1 million.

“What is the purpose of an impact fee,” he said, “if the money isn’t spent on people in the shale gas drilling fields who are impacted?”

Kevin Boozel, one of three county commissioners and the only Democrat, said there is impact fee money available to support a bond for the public waterlines in the county’s infrastructure bank fund. But the township would need to apply for it and there doesn’t seem to be a consensus for that, he said.

“There are different perspectives. Some residents living there don’t want township water,” Mr. Boozel said. “We can’t run water to some and not all. But should the municipality have interest, I guarantee we would look at it.” Although the water bank at the church has been operating for eight years now, he recognizes it isn’t a viable long-term solution. “I know this will come to a head eventually,” he said.

Every Thursday or Friday, a truck from Crystal Pure Bottled Water of Altoona, Blair County, delivers approximately 70 cardboard cases, each containing six, one-gallon plastic water jugs, to the church.

Every Monday in the morning or evening on alternating weeks, volunteers distribute between 400 to 500 gallons to Woodlands residents in amounts that vary depending on the size of their households.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the water bank pickups at the church had to shut down in March, but the McIntyres continued to deliver water jugs to Woodlands residents’ porches. The distribution at the church reopened in late July to increased demand, likely due to more people working at home or becoming unemployed.

The Rev. Lee Dreyer, who established the water bank at the church and still heads up the Monday morning distribution, said it’s a “Band-Aid,” but a necessary one.

“What is needed is to have water piped into the Woodlands neighborhood, but that’s not happened because those folks are, by and large, the forgotten poor,” said Mr. Dreyer, who retired in June 2019. “They live without a lot of services that most people take for granted. They are in the situation they are in because they don’t carry a lot of political weight locally or with the county. They are kind of powerless.”

Rev. Dreyer said he doesn’t see the situation changing anytime soon, and so will continue to focus on collecting donations to pay for the water. That task was made a bit easier when the Water for the Woodlands program received a $13,484 grant in June through Marcellus Outreach Butler, a local environmental organization, from the Ohio River Valley COVID-19 Response Fund.

According to a news release from Marcellus Outreach Butler (MOB), the grant will allow the program to provide water for up to 60 families for 32 weeks. MOB, which opposes shale gas development, also has called on the Butler County commissioners, the Connoquenessing Township supervisors and state and federal elected officials to provide funding for a Woodlands waterline.

Michael Badges-Canning, a MOB spokesman, said the county has used impact fees for repairs to the Alameda County Park swimming pool but never finds money for the Woodlands. “So people can swim at the county park but people in the Woodlands can’t take a bath,” Mr. Badges-Canning said. “We’d like to see the drilling impact fees spent on real impacts.”

>>> Donations to the Woodlands water bank can be made by a check made out to “Water for The Woodlands,” c/​o White Oak Springs Presbyterian Church, 102 Shannon Road, Renfrew, PA 16053.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jan Milburn August 6, 2020 at 5:35 pm

Jan Milburn‎ to Westmoreland Marcellus Citizens’ Group
On August 6, 2020

RE: Penna. Grand Jury Report

How many homes have to lose water, how much water will be contaminated….

Information from LAWPA: Brian and Susan Coppola lost water at their home and property in Washington County in July, 2015.

As of today, five years later, the Coppola’s still do not have well water in their home. And, a geologist has stated that it would cost more than $2 million to remediate the groundwater contamination.

Meanwhile, PA-DEP assessed a civil penalty of only $5,741 to National Fuel Supply.

Summary: Corruption, greed, stupidity, and unethical behavior are running rampant throughout this industry and our government. (local, state, and federal)



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