Water

Maryland AG Threatens to Sue Company Responsible for Pennsylvania Fracking Spill

The AG said the legal action was necessary following a well blow out, which spilled thousands of gallons of fracking fluids across farm lands and into a vital waterway.

The Maryland Attorney General's office is going after a giant player in the Marcellus Shale fracking industry, saying it will sue Chesapeake Energy for potential ground and water contamination resulting from its Pennsylvania fracking operations.

In an intent to sue letter announced Monday, Attorney General Douglas Glasner said the legal action was necessary following the April 19 well blow out in Bradford County, PA, which spilled thousands of gallons of fracking fluids across farm lands and into the Towanda Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna River which leads into the Chesapeake Bay.

"Companies cannot expose citizens to dangerous chemicals that pose serious health risks to the environment and to public health," said Gansler. "We are using all resources available to hold Chesapeake Energy accountable for its actions."

The well blow out forced the evacuation of seven families in the Leroy Township area. Chesapeake had to fly in special response teams from Texas to deal with the spill, which took nearly two days to stabilize and five days to permanently seal.

Chesapeake company officials called the environmental effects of the blow out "limited."

"Environmental testing conducted during the incident and since has shown limited and very localized environmental impact with no adverse affects on aquatic life in Towanda Creek. " said Brian Grove, Senior Director of Corporate Development, in a prepared statement. "The Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay watershed face many environmental threats; this event is not one of them."

The company declined to elaborate on what caused the wellhead failure. Following the blow out, the company temporarily halted fracking or what it calls "completion operations" in the Marcellus Shale region pending inspection of all wellheads.

The Maryland AG office after consultations with the governor's office, decided to make the bold move and prepare a lawsuit suit because of serious concerns about the composition of fracking fluid and its potential effects.

Our sole concern is "The impact it's going to have on Maryland waters," said Raquel Guillory, a spokesperson for Glasner's office. "It's pretty much a mystery as to what is contained in these fluids. We want to know exactly what is in them," she said. Chesapeake has 90 days to respond.

When asked whether they would divulge the contents of the fracking fluids to the Maryland AG, a spokesman from Chesapeake, Rory Sweeney, could not provide an answer.

Companies have claimed that their fracking brew should remain secret because of proprietary reasons. Reports by environmentalists, congressional committees and news organizations have determined that at least 29 toxic and carcinogenic chemicals are routinely found in fracking fluids and that gas companies have injected millions of gallons of chemically laced brew into the ground all across the country.

For anti fracking activists in Bradford County, the move by the Maryland AG begs the question, where are the state environmental watchdogs in Pennsylvania?

Mark Smith, a Bradford County Commissioner, who represents the region in Pennsylvania most heavily impacted by gas drilling, wrote a letter to Governor Tom Corbett following the Leroy Township well blowout, suggesting that the state DEP was too lax in its permit process.

"DEP officials are quoted in the media as saying they spend as little as 35 minutes to approve each gas well permit. This is an appalling statistic considering the significant operations and impact of a natural gas drilling site and even more appalling considering that there have been nearly 2,000 gas wells permitted in Bradford County," Smith wrote.

"Well water contamination in Bradford County is a real and serious issue that is affecting residents' quality of life, livelihoods, families, and property values. Water buffalos, temporary water storage tanks, now lay claim to peoples' front yards as a stark reminder of the extreme negative impact that natural gas development is having on our local communities.

"I have heard politicians in complete favor of the gas industry use the phrase, 'We don't want to kill the golden goose.' I would like to state, for the record, that the 'Golden Goose' does not exist. It is no more part of reality than the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, or the Easter Bunny, " Smith said in his letter.

Meanwhile, another Bradford County resident has fallen sick from Barium poisoning. Crystal Stroud, 29 years old, appeared at the Bradford County Commission meeting in Towanda last week and described her ordeal.

"I, too, believed in the Goose that was going to lay the Golden Egg in Bradford County. I leased my two acres of property for $5,000 to Chesapeake. We used the money to start fixing up our house, adding a pool, and thinking we were increasing our property value. Little did I know we were signing away life as we knew it," Stroud said in a prepared statement.

In March, shortly after drilling began at a nearby well, her hair started falling out, she experienced tremors, heart palpitations, stomach cramps, loss of balance and slurred speech. The results of a well water test showed contaminating levels of barium, chloride, strontium, manganese, lead, methane, radiological material, and radon. Her blood barium levels were around 110 micrograms per liter, the normal range being 0 to less than 10 micrograms per liter," Stroud said.

After receiving the results, she stopped drinking the water and started feeling a bit better. She now has a water buffalo. No one from Chesapeake or Chief gas, the companies with the two closest wells to Stroud's property, has taken responsibility.

At the end of her statement, Stroud reminded the commission that under Article 1 of the Pennsylvania State Constitution, "The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania's natural resources are the common property of all the people including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people. In closing. I would now like to ask my state Representative and my County Commissioners: Why have my Constitutional rights been taken from me?"

Nina Berman is a photographer/writer based in New York and the author of Purple Hearts: Back From Iraq.