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Black Water and Broken Promises: Elderly PA Resident Speaks Out

February 6, 2013

Black Water: Marcellus Shale Reality Tour

In this important video by Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition, Max Chilson of Asylum, Pennsylvania (near Towanda, in Bradford County) describes a few aspects of the nightmare his life has become since his water turned black after Chief Oil and Gas fracked nearby.  Max describes a trail of broken promises that’s led him to conclude, “I wouldn’t trade water for gas nohow.”

Max leased his 1.5 acres to Chesapeake Energy, and Chesapeake won’t help him either, laying the blame on Chief. Chesapeake is not drilling on Max’s land; Chief has two well pads with active drilling and fracking, one 1800 feet away and one 1200 feet away. In the video, Max says he couldn’t accept an offer Chief made to put in a water filtration system and a onetime payment of $300, because the agreement would have required him to pay for all filter replacements and repairs, which he can’t afford.

But why did his water turn black after Marcellus Shale gas drilling began nearby, anyway? No one knows precisely, but many others have had their water impacted, including turning black, in association with natural gas extraction (see The List of the Harmed and “Incidents where hydraulic fracturing is a suspected cause of drinking water contamination“). And why does it have that diesel-y smell? Max says he’s been unsuccessful in getting PA DEP to come re-test his water since it’s been impacted again.

Bottom line: Pennsylvania regulators are not making sure that Max, who had red rashes all over his body from showering in his water after it turned bad, has truly clean water. The gas companies certainly are not making sure he has clean water. “Every time they came here, they didn’t keep [their] promises,” says Max.

An elderly man with a bad back is being forced to carry and heat water from heavy 5-gallon jugs. He’s had to endure rashes from washing his hands and body in water turned bad by fracking. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania officials continue to deny they’ve “found any conclusive links” between fracking and health. it’s clear they’re not listening to Max Chilson or hundreds like him.

Thanks to Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition for their work documenting the impacts on Max’s water, and on his life.

UPDATE: 9 AM February 6 2013: I just spoke with Max Chilson. He said he has been forced to buy his own drinking water since Chief cut him off in November 2012. He believes he was cut off from clean drinking water as a punishment because he refused to sign an agreement saying that he would not contest PA DEP’s determination that gas drilling did not cause his water contamination.

Max can no longer carry the heavy jugs to heat for his stove, because, he said, “When you’re 80, it gets tough; I have a bad knee and bad back… My other neighbors had their water go bad too, some in their 80s and 90s.” So he is again showering in his water, and he reported the red rash recurring all over his body, followed by a type of rash that can linger up to two weeks.

Max said, “1200 feet below me they’re fracking” (Chief, which he says also drilled and fracked a well pad 1800 feet above him), and that the black stuff is again in his water.  He said he called the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH), but that DOH said he should call DEP to get them to test again. He says he did that, but that DEP was unresponsive. “I even gave DEP the DOH phone number,” he said, “but I never heard back from either of them again.”



Try something new and different. Send the video link to the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH). Follow up with two phone calls.

1. Call the Secretary of the PA Department of Health (717)787-6436

Ask whether Max Chilson’s case has been thoroughly documented by DOH as a gas drilling-related health complaint?

Demand that he be provided with a water buffalo to provide clean water for bathing, laundry, and dishes; and that he be supplied with clean drinking water, which he should not have to haul himself.

If you like, report your actions, and the responses you get, in the Comments section of this blog.

2. Call the Bureau of Public Health Preparedness (717) 346-0640

Ask them if the Bureau of Public Health Preparedness is truly prepared to deal with this level of fracking disaster? Send them a link to this video. Max’s water quality tested “A!” when the water well went in in 2004, he says, before drilling and fracking. He also says a number of his neighbors are also impacted. Send the Bureau the List of the Harmed, as well.

Please ask, during both phone calls, exactly who at DOH is now keeping track of gas drilling-related illnesses? What phone number should people with gas drilling-related health impacts call so that a complete directory of documented complaints is established?

Note: This is a DOH job, not a DEP issue alone. Yes, of course DEP should be more responsive. But where health is concerned, we need DOH to step up, to document, to respond, to provide emergency clean water — which they have the power to do — and to protect public health. DEP seems to lose a lot of records, and has argued in a court case that it is a burden to keep records about water impacted by gas drilling in an organized way. More importantly, DEP is embroiled in a major scandal at the moment regarding their water testing procedures; 25 environmental groups are asking questions about DEP’s lack of transparency related to disclosing water contaminants to Pennsylvania residents who suspect their water is impacted by gas drilling.

Skin rashes are not to be dismissed — they are more than an inconvenience; they can be precursors to much more serious illness related to water contaminated by drilling, fracturing, and other process associated with high-volume slickwater horizontal hydrofracking in shale.

Keep asking: Who at DOH will help Max Chilson get clean water to drink, to bathe in, to wash his dishes in? And if DOH has not found a way to help Max Chilson and others with bad water, will they issue a Public Health Alert to help people whose water turns bad figure out what to do and how to take care of their health?

Contact: Bureau of Public Health Preparedness
Phone: (717) 346-0640
Fax: (717) 346-0643
  1. February 6, 2013 10:31 am

    Breaks my heart watching this video. An elderly man who has worked all his life now forced to deal with the burden of how to acquire safe water. Breaks my heart that he has no choice but to bathe in the tainted water. I am so grateful to the Marcellus Shale Reality Tour series and to you, Iris, for your excellent reporting by way of this blog. I am a faithful viewer who continues to reap from the information you put forth to fuel the work I hope to do in raising the level of awareness in Maryland on the truth behind fracking. My prayers go out to Max Chilson, that his health not be worsened by the water and that he receives the justice he deserves. And, yes, I will make those calls!! Hope many people do. We must stand in solidarity to let these irresponsible gas companies know that their actions are not acceptable and that we are watching and listening and will do everything we can to make sure they are held accountable. Same for the DEP. Shame on the DEP. Shame!

  2. February 10, 2013 8:31 am

    Time to get other agencies involved… National Response Center, EPA. It is absolutely reprenhensible that a corporation treats any citizen, let alone an elderly one with such total disregard. Call AARP! Or that the government lets this go on! Who are your legislators (otherwise known as gas industry cronies)? Get a protest group to set up a campaign to bomb their FB pages with this and call their office demanding action. Anyone have other ideas?


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