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Target 11 investigates Marcellus Shale drilling

by: Report by Target 11 investigator Rick Earle Updated:

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None - PITTSBURGH -- It's been billed as a modern-day gold rush. Marcellus shale drilling has already made some folks in our area a lot of money, but others claim the process used to extract natural gas known as fracking is to blame for their water woes.

Target 11 Investigator Rick Earle has been talking to people on both sides of this very controversial and emotional issues.

Earle said it's an issue that has divided neighbors. On one side there are homeowners who claim the drilling is compromising their water. On the other side are the land owners and drillers who contend it's perfectly safe and say there's no scientific evidence linking fracking to water contamination. And now they have a brand-new independent study that proves their point.

"The Department of Environmental Protection says I can drink this. We can have coffee later," said Kim McEvoy, of Connoquenessing Twp., Butler County, while holding a gallon jug of discolored water.

McEvoy told Target 11 that she and other neighbors began having problems with their well water last summer. Today, McEvoy said her well is nearly dry.

"There it goes. I'm not even getting a gallon of water. I'm done. I lived here 16 years and the only thing I know that's changed in my environment is these gas wells," said McEvoy.

The gas wells began popping up last year and so did water complaints from other neighbors.

"I turned on the bathroom sink water and foam comes out and turned around to the bathtub and the toilet he had just used was foaming, " said Janet McIntyre, who lives down the road from McEvoy.

"I've never seen a rush of complaints about drinking water problems like I have since the Marcellus shale industry moved in here," said Myron Arnowitt, the director of Pennsylvania's Clean Water Action.

Clean Water Action has called for a temporary ban on drilling until more studies are done.

"The drilling is far too close to where peoples houses are, to where there drinking water is coming from. There needs to be much greater protection, said Arnowitt.

The University of Texas at Austin recently studied three separate drilling regions, including the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania. While the study found some issues with surface spills and cement casing used in drilling, the study said there was no scientific evidence of water contamination by hydraulic fracturing anywhere.

The head of the Marcellus Shale Coalition told Target 11 that the study backs up what they've been saying all along.

"I think it adds to the security the country can have, that we can do what President (Barack) Obama talked about and do it safely and have the economic benefit, this is not an either or." said Kathryn Klaber, director of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a group that represents drilling companies.

Tim Grosick has had seven wells drilled on his property near Connoquenessing Twp. One of them is right next to his home.

"My well is right there I haven't had a bit of problems," said Grosick.

The drilling company, Rex Energy, e-mailed Target 11 a statement that they tested the water in Connoquenessing before and after drilling and found no notable differences in water chemistry. They said that the wells in question are all located uphill from the Rex production locations. They said that's important because groundwater generally flows downhill.

 Rex suggested that old oil wells in the region may have deteriorated and impacted the groundwater quality.

The state Department of Environmental Protection told Target 11 they also investigated water complaints from 11 homeowners in the area and found no evidence that natural gas drilling impacted water supplies.

Still, Rex Energy voluntarily supplied fresh drinking water to some residents in the area. Those deliveries will stop at the end of February. Homeowners will be responsible for picking up the costs.

McEvoy said she's had enough and she's planning on moving out.  A "For Sale" sign is up in front of her home.

When Earle asked her where she planned to go, McEvoy said, "Anywhere they are not drilling. I don't care if I have to leave the state to get away from the drilling."

McEvoy and other residents who've had problems with their well water have asked their township supervisors and state lawmakers to help them get public water lines to their homes. That will likely take some time if it happens at all.

In the meantime, residents who want water will have to start paying for it beginning next week.

The state has recently taken some more steps to regulate the drilling industry in Pennsylvania. Last week, Gov. Tom Corbett signed the Marcellus shale bill into law.

Among other things, it moves gas wells farther from drinking water sources, requires online public disclosure of chemicals used in the fracking process and allows counties to level an impact fee on drillers. The fee will go for any public costs associated with the drilling.

Link: Shale Gas Regulation Study