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Butler County Breaking: Drilling Spills in Over a Dozen Creeks; “Frack-Out”

February 21, 2012

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission reported this morning that they are now investigating over a dozen different drilling mud spills in at least a dozen different freshwater creeks in the Connoquenessing Township area of Butler County. More details below. Kim McEvoy, whose water first turned dark gray in January 2011, said this morning after living with contaminated water for over a year, “The whole ecosystem is destroyed. We are trying to move out this month. I love it here. We don’t want to move.” A photo of the McEvoys’ home with snow coming down on February 4th, 2012, with lovely evergreen trees and an American flag flying, is below. As more and more Pennsylvania families become environmental refugees due to heavy gas drilling, what can ordinary people do?

First, take action. If you haven’t written EPA yet to demand clean safe drinking water for, and further investigation to protect the health and survival of, impacted families in Connoquenessing Township, Butler County, please do so immediately. Please just add an initial sentence of your own to this letter to Shawn Garvin, Administrators, EPA Region 3 and send it asap. Thanks!

Kim McEvoy's home in Connoquenessing Township with American flag, evergreens. Photo: Iris Marie Bloom

Second, stay informed. Yesterday, February 20th, 2012, Connoquenessing residents including Kim McEvoy and Janet McIntyre reported a spill of a “gray liquid” coming off the hillside in two places near a Rex Energy gas well drilling site. A very nice out of state worker on the scene, who told Stephen Cleghorn that he was with the company that does horizontal drilling for Rex Energy, said they had had a “frack-out” and that the liquid had come back up to the surface during fracking.

It is not known at this time whether there were two spills yesterday, or just one. Photos taken yesterday show bales of hay placed in steep man-made ditches flowing downstream towards a creek which local residents identified as Crab Run Creek. Across the street from that steep hillside, black hoses were positioned in another ditch that runs alongside Crab Run Road.

Stephen Cleghorn, of Paradise Gardens and Farm in Jefferson County, drove three hours round trip yesterday to deliver his own water buffalo to Janet and Fred McIntyre of Connoquenessing Township so that their family could begin again to take showers at home with clean water (as soon as they find a way to fill the empty container with water). The McIntyres reported that their water became contaminated in January 2011, when their tap water suddenly began foaming. Family members vomited until the McIntyres shifted to drinking bottled water; a family dog which had continued to drink the tap water died with bloody diarrhea last Valentine’s Day (2011), and the family also experienced rashes, a nosebleed so severe that the family member had to be hospitalized; and other health problems.

Connoquenessing residents have also reported foul air from gas drilling operations so intense that it has sickened them; the most recent reports of sickening odor incidents include December 8th and February 4th. We will report that separately to keep this short. Meanwhile, if you are running out of time to absorb all this news, please just take a moment to write EPA requesting clean water for the impacted families now.

Drilling Mud Spills and a “Frack-Out”

Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s Officer Nestor confirmed today that the Commission is investigating about a dozen drilling mud spills that have occurred in the tiny Connoquenessing area since December 2011. Asked if they had investigated any spills earlier than that, he said, “maybe a couple in November 2011.” The spills are “mainly associated with pipelines, whenever they go under a stream and bore horizontally,” he said. Lubricants are used when drillers bore horizontally under streams and roads.

Officer Nestor said that the drilling mud, which he also referred to as bentonite, has “come into about a dozen different creeks.”

In addition to the phone reports from local residents who described “gray gluck” coming down off the hillside, we also have one first-hand report, by email, of yesterday’s spill. Stephen Cleghorn writes,

We went down to Crab Run Road, which I gathered takes its name from the Crab Run creek that runs down below it.  There we saw several trucks that appeared to working on containing a spill of some sort.  The ditch beside the road had been blocked in sveral places with hay bales to make the water (frack water?) pool up and they had hoses into it.  On the other side of the road, down a steep embankment to where Crab Run was flowing through, I could see that they had made some ditches and plugged those with hay bales, too.  Hard to know what they were trying to accomplish.

Then I spoke to a worker, a very nice young man who said he was from out of state and was working with the company doing the horizontal drilling for Rex Energy. I asked him what happened.  He said they had a “frack out” – that was what he called it.  He said that the liquid came to the surface during the fracking.  I presumed it must have been from the well on the rise above us, which we could not see from Crab Run Road, so we drove around and I took a picture of that well site.

It was quite bizarre, because clearly the hay bales and the occasional soft cloth-looking dam they use (it has a name, a “boom” I think, but these were really small) did not seem adequate to preventing the fluid in that ditch from getting to the creek below, and I had no idea why they had ditches and hay bales below even closer to Crab Run (Janet told me that was the name of the waterway, which given the name of the road makes sense).

Here’s a photo of the hay bales in man-made ditches heading down towards Crab Run (left) and the truck and black hoses in the ditch running alongside Crab Run Road (right):

Hay bales placed in ditches flowing down towards Crab Run Creek in Connoquenessing, accomplishing what? Feb 20, 2012 Photo: Stephen Cleghorn

Another spill in Connoquenessing: Truck, ditch, bales and black hoses, February 20th, 2012. Photo: Stephen Cleghorn

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23 Comments
  1. February 21, 2012 12:49 pm

    Absolutely horrible, and unacceptable.

  2. February 21, 2012 1:32 pm

    The industrialization of our land is ruining our natural heritage. Stop it already.

  3. February 21, 2012 1:36 pm

    This is heart breaking. I signed the request to get water to this area. We as Pennsylvanians need to stop the drilling. We are on our own here as the legislatures are not of much help and the EPA and DEP are not stopping them just saying they will help if an incident befalls us. To those who have held out from signing their mineral right away please don’t be bought as our health, water and clean air are more valuable than any money you may gain. And although I believe in the rights of property owners they do not have the right to jeopardize the healthy and welfare of all of us including the wildlife and the environment that we all share. Let’s pull together here and save the state we all live in.
    I am one of one thousand members of Slippery Rock Campground. This beautiful campground is right on the Slippery Rock Creek and has a wonder fresh water well that supplies us water. In 2007 two of our former board members signed a contract with East Resources Inc. and they are no longer in business this lease was for 5 years which was up February 8th 2012, however we as a membership has been told that the lease just rolled over and that the drilling is about to begin. I am fighting this with all I have in me. MOB has been helpful but the twp. county and state officials are not. I am in the process of trying to find a lawyer and I am poor to help me petition Joe Minnitte of Shell oil himself and I am needing all the help that I can get. I have not even been given a chance to vote on this nor did I sign anything and I am not receiving any money for this drilling. However, there is no amount of money that would make any of this ok. So I want to stop the drilling in Pennsylvania as I believe we have had enough accidents already.

    • Bill Henry permalink
      February 21, 2012 3:10 pm

      Try suing using anticipatory nuisance.

    • Iris Marie Bloom permalink
      February 22, 2012 1:02 am

      Cindy, since you have a lot of commitment to this fight and to ending that 2007 lease, see if by any chance any of the larger groups which have lawyers — NRDC, Sierra Club, Clean Air Council, Defenders of Wildlife or any other — can help you. Marcellus Outreach Butler is a great group. At some moments independence is best and in some cases we need to connect our strong grassroots organizing on the ground with some of the larger nonprofits that have lawyers and resources. Keep at it and be persistent. It takes relentless persistence to take on such a big powerful arrogant industry, and looks like you’ve got that excellent quality.

      • February 25, 2012 3:02 pm

        Anticipatory Nuicance sounds like what we need. I am grateful for the links and for being educated on this matter. That is how I feel. Someone has decided to profit from this without consideration of their neighbors. In my case I may be going against the very individuals who have signed the lease and not the leasee who I am told renewed the lease that is non-negotiable. I do however think that this Anticipatory Nuicance would stop the drilling in Pa. and now all we need to do is group together and have a great attorney who will put heart and soul into it just as we all would. Bill Henry, Thank you for supplying these educational and promising links. Iris Bloom, thank you for organizing this outreach program. I will look into available attorneys with this more powerful idea in mind.

  4. MiserableOldFart permalink
    February 21, 2012 2:27 pm

    How much killing has to take place before we DEMAND that the Hallburton Exception be repealed??

  5. Bill Henry permalink
    February 21, 2012 3:22 pm

    Also join MOB and Mountain Watershed Association and start testing creeks before drilling and after. WE can be the ground crew for the Fish and Boat Commission and the EPA. I don’t think the DEP cares. MOB is Butler’s Marcellus Shale Group. There is one in every County in the Pittsburgh area.

    • Ruth Lachman Sueker permalink
      February 22, 2012 5:33 pm

      What is MOB?

      • Briget permalink
        February 23, 2012 8:13 am

        MOB is” Marcellus Outreach Butler” a group of committed people living in the Butler area working on all issues relating to the drilling that is taking place there. You can also visit our website marcellusprotest.org It has a calendar of events, reports and news about what is going on in communities around the Western part of PA and especially the Pittsburgh area where I’m from.

  6. alexx permalink
    February 21, 2012 11:05 pm

    Absolutely DEP does not care. Krancer’s clearly in the pocket of every BO&G company drilling here in PA. He, Corbett, and Terry Engelder, all thick as thieves.

  7. Carrie Hahn permalink
    February 22, 2012 8:11 am

    I was was out there yesterday and spoke with a gentleman in charge of the pipeline who was overseeing the cleanup. He explained that they were putting in a pipeline to move gas from the Grosnick well and that the pipeline ran under the road and the [Crab Run} creek. He did not specify where the pipeline was headed. He also said that “you never know what these underground aquifers look like and sometime when they drill they tap into them; that’s what happened here.” He continued by saying, “there are tiny springs all over these hill sides sometimes and that the drilling fluid has found it’s ways out through them.” He was very nice and very patient with all the questions I had. I told him that people up the road (meaning the Woodlands) were experiencing a lot of problems with their private water wells that they believe have been contaminated by the fracking that has occurred in the area. I also told him that I was aware that the Grosnick well had the seventh and final well drilled at that pad just two weeks ago, so the timing of this leak is worrisome. He told me that the leak began at the end of January and that he was unaware of any water well problems in the area. He had no problem with me taking a water sample of the fluid which I have delivered to a chemistry professor at Westminster College. Hopefully they don’t find any chemicals in the water because this spill is very wide spread and had been going on for a long time. What I don’t understand is why it is still leaking if they stopped drilling….or did they?

    • Briget permalink
      February 23, 2012 8:18 am

      Hi Carrie, this is Briget Shields. Did you ask the lab to test for any specific chemicals? Just curious to know if they know what they are testing for. Sometimes they miss checking for specific chemicals like benzine, toluene, heavy metals, barium, formaldehyde/
      I also wondered how he could be working on this and not know there were people with water problems. maybe you can send me an email? thanks.

  8. V Appalachia permalink
    February 22, 2012 9:21 am

    Cindy, thanks for standing up and seeking ways to take action against gas drilling in your community. Here’s an interesting article about anticipatory nuisance: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-reinbach/stop-gas-drilling-sue-you_b_787881.html

    This story ran in Nov. 2010, so some of the info about gas drilling law in New York state is out-of-date, but otherwise, this is a useful description of the premise. You might also look up Parker, Waichman Alonzo law firm and see if there is more discussion of the use of this strategy on their firm’s website.

    I would also recommend investigating writing a letter of complaint to the PA Attorney General, describing your Campground’s problems with the automatic lease renewal. If that concept (that there was no chance to renegotiate terms of the lease at the end of the term) was not clear when the lease was signed, it might be a good idea to go on record with that complaint, as AG’s offices usually have staff assigned to consumer protection that may, or may not, be able to assist.

    Most standard mineral leases are written with clauses that deceptively allow automatic renewal if the company can prove development has occurred (sometimes just a stake in the ground, or a parked piece of machinery is all needed to make that claim). If development has not occurred, they claim force majeure to renew the lease (i.e. that some circumstance has prevented development), so, either way, the lessor has a very slim chance of escaping the original, usually predatory leasing rate.

    Hope you can find someone to provide legal assistance.

    • February 22, 2012 9:50 pm

      Thank you for the advice. I will check out these avenue’s and links tomorrow. As you already know I am getting no where fast. All I want is a chance to vote on this important matter, even knowing that I am possibly the minority. I still need to be able to say no to renewing the lease. Senator Gibbons seems very genuine concerned but still hopeful that as long as everything is safe it is a great adventure and that would be fine if everything was safe. I’m getting this all across the board. The drilling will benefit us all and a few problems is no reason to stop. However, for those of us who know that this drill should stop before a catastrophe starts we have no choice but to band together and become stronger together.

      • V Appalachia permalink
        February 24, 2012 9:16 am

        Hope the info helps, Cindy, and that you’ll keep talking about this issue. Not sure if the Att’y General in PA will help, but at least your complaint is on record, if you send a letter. If you know others who feel that they have been misled into a situation in which they are forced to renew a lease, or if the terms were otherwise misrepresented by the leasing agent, please encourage them to do so as well.

        You might also try to talk to the press about it. The Baltimore Sun ran a story in Maryland, where the state is currently studying the possibility of allowing shale gas development. (see: http://www.baltimoresun.com/features/green/bs-gr-gas-leasing-20111231,0,4478394,full.story) If lawmakers in a state can be made aware of how predatory leasing practices deny fair compensation to the State’s landowners, and thus deprive the State of millions in taxable income, maybe they will work to protect landowners in their state with leasing reform. Even pro-drill lawmakers should care that their citizens (and State) be fairly compensated for their resources.

        We shouldn’t stand by and allow the gas companies to treat our communities as their new resource colony. If they don’t think they should pay a fair price for our resources, why would we expect them to extract the resources safely?

  9. Carol permalink
    February 22, 2012 3:38 pm

    People everywhere in Pennsylvania should be very frightened of the threats to their
    health from fracking. No one can afford to be inactive on this. Go to the hearings! Write
    to your representatives!Only storms of protests will have any effect. I am an older woman
    who wants young people to have a normal life today and in the future. Therefore fracking
    must not go on. Once any fracking starts around the Delaware or other river basins, the
    dangerous chemicals begin flowing into the river and into our drinking water. Fracking
    involves leakages.

  10. Daniel F Shearer permalink
    March 1, 2012 2:55 pm

    Daniel F Shearer says:

    To supply those poor families in need, send the bill to Gov. Corbett to pay for their right to live with clean water and air. The Governor could use the millions of dollars he accepted from the oil and gas companies for his election and the favorable “only in Pennsylvania legislation” that he gave to the “frackers”. A great example of RESPONSIBLE oil and natural gas production. This is only the beginning of an environmental and financial disaster.

Trackbacks

  1. Help Butler County Families Hurt by Gas Drilling Now! « Protecting Our Waters
  2. Rex Energy Removes Families’ Clean Water; Group Confronts Rex Energy Today « Protecting Our Waters
  3. Another Fireball: Blowouts, Explosions and Fires « Protecting Our Waters

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