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