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Dead Calves and Silences: Quarantined Cows Gave Birth to Stillborn Calves

October 18, 2011

In one of the most interesting and little-known feats of investigative reporting about Marcellus Shale gas drilling in Pennsylvania this year, NPR/WHYY reporter and blogger Susan Phillips tracked down the quarantined cows from Tioga County to find out what became of them.  When the cows were first quarantined, it was big news, but Phillips is the first and only reporter to get an update on the cows’ health. The news is not good. Her full blog post is here.

Phillips tracked down the cows’ owners and learned that a flowback pit (called a “pond” by drilling companies but full of substances not usually found in ponds, including fracking chemicals along with heavy metals and salts from the shale) had leaked through its plastic liner and flowed into the cows’ pasture.

“When tested, the water con­tained chlo­ride, iron, sul­fate, bar­ium, mag­ne­sium, man­ganese, potas­sium, sodium, stron­tium and cal­cium. The spill killed all veg­e­ta­tion in an area 30 feet by 40 feet. In early May, Pennsylvania’s Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture quar­an­tined the cows, wor­ried that the result­ing beef could be tainted and make peo­ple sick. East Resources objected to the quar­an­tine, say­ing it was an unnec­es­sary step to take.”

A pro-drilling correspondent urged Phillips to investigate the aftermath.  Like the industry, East Resources, which felt quarantine was unnecessary to begin with, the correspondent clearly believed follow-up would show that nothing was wrong with the cattle.

Instead, Phillips learned that of the eleven calves born this spring, eight were born dead or were so weak that they died shortly afterwards.  She spoke with Carol Johnson, the animals’ owner, in late September:

“It’s abom­inable,” says John­son, who along with her hus­band Don, has been rais­ing cows on that land for 53 years, after tak­ing over the farm from Don Johnson’s grand­fa­ther. “They were born dead or extremely weak. It’s highly unusual,” she said. “I might lose one or two calves a year, but I don’t lose eight out of eleven.”

It’s great to find one reporter doing her job, but disturbing that so many animals are dying and getting sick after coming into contact with fracking fluid.  Only the best-documented cases tend to make their way into the news, such as the seventeen cows which died in Louisiana in 2009 after ingesting fracking fluid which Chesapeake Energy said was more than 99% water.  Official documents show that to be the case; in fact the fracking chemicals were diluted at 3 gallons to 627 gallons of water.  Still, seventeen cows died in agony within an hour of drinking the fluid, which leaked from a valve left open.  Amy Mall’s blog was one of many which commented on this terrible incident, which came at a time when the industry still routinely claimed that fracking used only “sand and water.”

The industry’s silence, and regulators’ corresponding silences, about fracking fluid and fracking flowback’s toxic contaminants has been broken.  But the multiple silences about the impacts of high-volume slickwater hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling and its impact on animal and human health are only now beginning to be broken.

  1. October 18, 2011 4:14 pm

    How much more evidence do we need to ban fracking for ever? These “fracking” fluids are deadly Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde chemicals that can not be cleaned from the “produced waters” nor cleaned from contaminated water sheds, tributaries and rivers. Regulating and taxing the drilling in Marcellus Shale is like playing Russian Roulette with our water and the health of generations to come for the sake of the quick fast buck of the “drill baby drill” corporate drillers and the politicians that they have bought and owned.

  2. October 20, 2011 7:26 pm

    You need to email this to the Pittsburgh Press Pipeline.

  3. Clairesse permalink
    October 20, 2011 10:04 pm

    Isnt it odd that this kind of info which should be everywhere, is no where. There are people living in our area who have experienced health effects. No one has interviewed them even in the local newspapers.

  4. October 22, 2011 5:03 pm

    In addition to these concerns, I can’t believe that open ponds are allowed to be used to contain fracking waste water. There are no precautions in place to prevent wild animals from feeding from this contaminated water. According to Carol Johnson, wild animals are attracted to the salt, and consume it. She expressed concern for all the hunters in the area who may be consuming contaminated grouse, rabbits, deer, and other game.

  5. Doris Loder permalink
    October 30, 2011 5:06 pm

    It’s more than time to call the gas industry “Out” on any of their declarations that “fracking” is safe! Not by any means. Already there have been enough deadly serious consequences showing devastating conditions to people, land and water wherever these drillings have occurred. All I can say is, “Liar, Liar, pants on fire. Go home – into your own backyard – not ours where the future of our families lie. You’ve had more than 3 Strikes and You Are Out!!!!! That facts can no longer be called erroneous. Truth does hurt, right?

    • Doris Loder permalink
      October 30, 2011 5:09 pm

      I’m sorry if you have to edit my response but having followed the fracking debacle for several years with piles of literature and newsprint I can give them no credence. Very Sorry.

  6. Doris Loder permalink
    October 30, 2011 5:10 pm

    See you in Trenton on the 21st.

  7. Fred Welty permalink
    January 23, 2012 10:13 pm

    I live in northeast Ohio. The landmen have been signing up landowners in our county. I’m part of a small group which is trying to oppose fracking. Is there anyone who has been harmed by fracking who can communicate by Skype? We need your help in convincing people of what is coming if they sign those leases.


  1. Fracked cattle were quarantined, now give birth to dead calves
  2. Gas drilling impacts: PA farmer Terry Greenwood’s cows gave birth to zero calves this year, after ten dead calves in 2008 « Protecting Our Waters
  3. Shell corporations used by Chesapeake Energy billionaire CEO to bilk elderly farmers in Michigan « Protecting Our Waters

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