Shaky Ground (part 3 in a series on fracking)

By Jonathan Barnes

After years of dealing with water problems they believe were caused by fracking, or hydraulic fracturing to find natural gas, people like Ron Carter in Dimock, PA, are left wondering if they will ever have their problems solved

. While the EPA is providing water to the Carter family and three other residences in Dimock, it could provide more to others, or stop altogether. According to a Jan. 31 statement made by the Philadelphia office of the EPA, Cabot actually has criticized the EPA for providing alternate water supplies to homes in Dimock.

“We took this precautionary and limited step as an interim measure to be protective of human health while monitoring is underway,” the EPA statement said, adding that Cabot has also characterized the presence of certain chemicals, such as arsenic, manganese, and sodium as naturally occurring. “This is misleading, since although these chemicals are naturally occurring in Susquehanna County, the levels of arsenic, manganese and sodium found in the Dimock

area are not consistent with background concentrations typically found in the zones from which Dimock homeowners draw water for their private wells… the arsenic and manganese levels, when reviewed by an EPA toxicologist, were at levels high enough to present a health concern, supporting the need for alternate water. This latest explanation by Cabot about their data further underscores the need for EPA to have reliable validated information.”

Cabot Oil & Gas is responsible for the fracking around Dimock, but the company has not been forthcoming in providing information to the EPA, agency officials said. Now, the energy company is providing the agency with a flood of documents that will take a long time to review.

“Beginning on January 10, Cabot began submitting data in response to the Agency’s request of January 6. EPA is reviewing that data, which consists of approximately 10,000 pages of records pertaining to the site,” EPA officials said in a statement. “Until that point, Cabot had not provided EPA any data. Furthermore, Cabot has advised us that even more data, estimated at 100,000 additional pages, is still to be provided. We plan to carefully consider it, along with the results of our own sampling, in determining next steps.”

Carter said he believes his problem with his

well water being tainted can be remedied. “If they can build new prisons in Pennsylvania and [recycle] the wastewater, they ought to be able to fix my water here,” he said.

While the earthquakes along the Grennbrier-Guy Fault in Arkansas have shaken residents into activity, they face an uphill fight. Seven of

the nine commissioners on the Arkansas state Oil and Gas Commission are directly tied to the natural gas drilling industry. And in Arkansas, there’s a “forced integration” law, which breaks the state into 1-square-mile drillable chunks of land. A drilling company must get just 50 percent of the mineral rights in a square-mile section, and then the remaining property owners can be forced into allowing drilling by the company.

In Pennsylvania, things just got tougher for those opposed to fracking, since the governor recently signed a state law that finally puts a per-well drilling tax on natural gas drillers. One part of that legislation also overturned any local municipal laws regulating natural gas drilling, requiring that municipalities conform to the state law and allow fracking operations nearly everywhere in their townships and boroughs. Places such as the city of Pittsburgh, and Forest Hills Borough, just outside the eastern edge of the Steel City, banned fracking outright and now must change their laws, or sue the state.

Forest Hills Mayor Marty O’Malley, an opponent of fracking, is hoping the leaders of his borough will decide to join a fledgling effort of municipal leaders considering suing the state over the new law. He doesn’t trust the natural gas industry for good reason, he said.

“The people that are doing the drilling are employees of corporations. Corporations are persons without souls,” O’Malley said. “Can I trust a person who doesn’t have a soul? The answer is no.”

Across the nation, public awareness is growing about the potential harm caused by fracking. “We’re starting to get to the top of the hill in this battle. The evidence is piling up, and people are starting to see what’s going in,” Lane said.

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About Jonathan Barnes

Jonathan Barnes is an award-winning Pittsburgh freelance writer who has written thousands of newspaper, magazine, and news service stories. He is a longtime correspondent for Reuters and Engineering News-Record, and a stringer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has contributed to Fortune, The New York Times, New York Daily News, Newsday and other publications. His personal essays have been published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, ENR, in magazines, journals and on his blog, Barnestormin: