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Impoundments Leaking: Breaking News Reinforces Three Major Reports on Fracking

August 7, 2014

Photo: KDKA Channel 2, from CBS Pittsburgh

Finally, possibly feeling some sting from the thrashing given it recently by Pennsylvania’s Auditor General, Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) has done a little tiny something.
                                                                                                                                                                                  They have issued one (one!) Notice of Violation to Range Resources, one of the most polluting fracking companies known to Pennsylvania and Texas combined. Apparently, the persistent leaks from Range’s fracking wastewater impoundments became too much for even DEP to continue to overlook.
                                                                                                                                                                                  PA DEP’s response to constant leaks from the open pits DEP itself has approved to hold fracking flowback, is dismally understated. The pits typically contain biocides, carcinogens, neurotoxins, endocrine disruptors, toxic levels of salt, and radioactive materials — a combination of toxic materials used in drilling and fracking, and naturally occurring materials from deep underground, such as the intense salt and the Radium 226.
                                                                                                                                                                                   If DEP was to uphold its mission to protect our ecosystem, thereby protecting public health, all open fracking flowback pits lined with plastic would be banned. Closed-loop systems would be required, and a moratorium would be put into place instead of one more impoundment being approved.
                                                                                                                                                                                   But the industry, PA DEP, and the EPA have failed to ban fracking flowback pits. The impoundments leak constantly in Pennsylvania and pose long-term risks even where acute impacts are not immediately observed. Due to this and other failures, the pressure to stop fracking Pennsylvania is again on the rise.

New report: Pennsylvania prioritizes fracking at expense of law, health, environment

Today, Earthworks released their report, Blackout in the Gas Patch, a year in the making, clearly documenting the degree to which Pennsylvania prioritizes fracking at the expense of law, public health, and the environment.
                                                                                                                                                                                  “Blackout in the Gas Patch” follows quickly upon the heels of the Department of Health scandal; the Auditor General’s Report; and the Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Gas and Oil Extraction). The Compendium, published in July with 15 categories of harm and 300 references, is by far the single most complete catalogue of scientific studies documenting fracking’s harms to date.
                                                                                                                                                                                  As if to underline exactly what these reports are all saying, yesterday the news broke about three leaking fracking waste pits in Pennsylvania. As reported by CBS in Pittsburgh yesterday, “DEP: 3 Range Resources Frackwater Impoundments Are Leaking”

MARIANNA, Pa. (AP) – The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has issued a violation to Range Resources because a fracking wastewater impoundment has leaked, contaminating groundwater and a nearby stream in Washington County.

Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella says the company plans to close the Yeager impoundment in Amwell Township, but says there’s no evidence the pollution has affected nearby homes.

Matt Pitzarella, repeatedly at the center of disputes himself — for example, the controversy in which he misrepresented his own education — may have forgotten that the New York Times published a devastating account of pollution, with health impacts and many animal deaths, due to a fracking waste pit in Amwell Township. That waste pit has the same name — Yeager — and is on the same road — McAdams — as the one reported yesterday to be leaking, yet Pitzarella went public claiming that there was “no evidence” that the frack pit had affected nearby residents.

Of course, Pitzarella worded his denial, above, in a very certain way. He said there’s no evidence the pollution has “affected nearby homes.” Maybe that means he thinks that no bricks have been harmed. Goats, horses, dogs, got sick, aborted their young, and died — but, homes weren’t affected. Household water turned black — but, the home itself stayed upright. Stacey Haney’s son got sick, neighbors experienced blisters inside their noses, nosebleeds, nausea and more — but still, the actual homes were not affected, right Pitzarella?

The Yeager fracking waste impoundment on McAdams Road. Source: Texas Sharon, “Customize Your Water Data Reporting

The New York Times, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and other sources do make it harder to hide the evidence Pitzarella says does not exist. Several Washington County, PA families sued Range Resources over contamination from the Yeager shale gas operation, including particularly the waste pit, as reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in May 2012.

An even higher profile story, The Fracturing of Pennsylvania, from the November 20th, 2011 New York Times Sunday Magazine, reported that Stacey Haney, her neighbor Beth Voyles, and their families live in Amwell Township, in Washington County, Pennsylvania, near a Range Resources fracking waste pit:

A month later [after Voyles’s boxer had died after drinking from puddles related to gas drilling], Haney’s dog, Hunter, also died suddenly. Soon after, Voyles called Haney to tell her that her barrel horse, Jody, was dead. Lab results revealed a high level of toxicity in her liver…

Voyles’s boxers began to abort litters of puppies; six were born with cleft palates. They died within hours. Others were born dead or without legs or hair. Unsure what to do, Voyles stored 15 of the puppies in her freezer. (Range Resources says it was never notified about the puppies.) By December, Boots, the grand-champion goat, aborted two babies. Haney had to put her down the day after Christmas.

What was going on with the animals? Where were the toxic chemicals in their blood coming from? Haney feared that the arrival of the gas industry and the drilling that had begun less than 1,000 feet from her home might have something to do with it.

The New York Times piece loops around through long passages describing the generally pro-drilling atmosphere at that time in rural southwestern  Pennsylvania. But then it takes the reader through the process the Haney and Voyles families had to go through to discover the huge Range Resources fracking flowback pit virtually in their backyards. Emphasis added:

About a year before Haney’s dog died, in the summer of 2009, she began to notice that sometimes her water was black and that it seemed to be eating away at her faucets, washing machine, hot-water heater and dishwasher. When she took a shower, the smell was terrible — like rotten eggs and diarrhea. Haney started buying bottled water for drinking and cooking, but she couldn’t afford to do the same for her animals.

Later that summer, her son, Harley, was stricken with mysterious stomach pains and periods of extreme fatigue, which sent him to the emergency room and to Pittsburgh’s Children’s Hospital a half-dozen times. “He couldn’t lift his head out of my lap,” Haney said. Early in November of the following year, after the animals died, Haney decided to have Harley tested for heavy metals and ethylene glycol. While she waited for the results, Haney called Range Resources and asked that it supply her with drinking water. The company tested her water and found nothing wrong with it. Haney’s father began to haul water to her barn.

A week later, on Haney’s 41st birthday, Harley’s test results came back. Harley had elevated levels of arsenic. Haney called Range Resources again. The company delivered a 5,100-gallon tank of drinking water, called a water buffalo, the next day. “Our policy is if you have a complaint or a concern, we’ll supply you with a water source within 24 hours,” Pitzarella of Range Resources said. He added that the company has “never seen any evidence that anyone in that household has arsenic issues.”

Company policy at Range Resources is clearly: Deny everything (always). Admit nothing (ever).

Although she was able to work 40 hours as a nurse and care for two kids and a small farm, Haney wasn’t feeling great, either. So a few months later, she had herself and Paige tested too. Their tests results showed they had small amounts of heavy metals like arsenic and industrial solvents like benzene and toluene in their blood. Dr. Philip Landrigan of Mount Sinai said that the results show evidence of exposure, but that it was difficult to determine potential health effects at the levels found. But he added: “These people are exposed to arsenic and benzene, known human carcinogens. There’s considered to be no safe levels of these chemicals.”

…Soon Haney and her kids began to notice that even outdoors it smelled a lot like the shower — a combination of sweet metal, rotten eggs and raw sewage. Talking to neighbors, Haney learned that atop a hill, about 1,500 feet from her home and less than 800 feet from that of her neighbor, Beth Voyles, there was an open, five-acre chemical impoundment filled with chemically treated water.

Haney figured out how to navigate Google Earth on her son’s computer. (She doesn’t own one, nor does she have an e-mail address.) There was her gravel driveway and her house hidden under the canopy of maple trees. And there was the six-football-field-square black pond that dwarfed her neighbor’s silver-roofed house. The grass surrounding the pond looked dead.

The nightmare continued for the Haney and Voyles families. In fact it continued long past the publication of the New York Times piece, until Stacey Haney was forced out of her home altogether — a truly desperate situation for a working nurse and mother with so many animals to care for.

Fracked on McAdams Road

Back to the “Fracturing of Pennsylvania” from the New York Times: note the line, “next door on McAdams Road,” since yesterday’s WTAE reporting on the leaking waste pit operated by Range Resources is identified as being on McAdams Road:

When Voyles told Range Resources she had developed blisters in her nose, it offered to put her up in a hotel, as it does for all nuisance complaints, but she didn’t want to leave her dogs and horses behind. (Range later said that it had no record of the complaint.) Next door on McAdams Road, Haney and her kids began to have intense periods of dizziness and nosebleeds. Of the three, Harley was the worst off. Haney took him to their family physician, Craig Fox, in the nearby town of Washington. Like most local doctors, Dr. Fox had never seen such symptoms before.

Haney says that Dr. Fox’s advice to her was unequivocal: “Get Harley out of that house right away. I don’t want him anywhere near there, even driving by, for 30 days.” So Haney took Harley to a friend’s house in Eighty-Four, a town named for the lumber company. She took her daughter to her parents’ house in Amity. Each day, she spent about four hours in the car shuttling the kids from school, to and from friends’ homes and driving to the farm to feed the animals, which were O.K. some days and vomiting or collapsing on others. Haney found a cousin willing to take her pigs, but she had nowhere to house the other animals, so they remained at the farm. She stayed home for less than an hour at a time, long enough to put a load of laundry into the washer. Every two days, she spent $50 on gas. Their farmhouse stood abandoned…

Haney is no left-leaning environmentalist; she is a self-proclaimed redneck who is proud to trace her roots here back at least 150 years. This is not the kind of fight she usually takes on. “I’m not going to sit back and let them make my kids sick,” she says. “People ask me why I don’t just move out, but where would I go? I can’t afford another mortgage, and if I default on this place, we will lose it. ”

Beth Voyles is equally frustrated. Although the results of her medical tests are inconclusive, she complains of blisters in her nose and throat, headaches and nosebleeds, joint aches, rashes, an inability to concentrate, a metal taste in her mouth. Voyles filed suit against the Department of Environmental Protection in May. Range Resources chose to join the case, because its rights are also at stake. Documents from industry sources and the D.E.P. — now a matter of public record — support the suit’s allegations of a series of structural violations and hazardous incidents surrounding the pond. They include half a dozen tears in the pond’s plastic liner (at least one caused by a deer — its carcass had to be dragged out); at least four cracks in a temporary plastic transfer pipeline leading to an open field; two truck spills, one of which contaminated a cattle pasture; and a leak in an adjacent pond that held drill cuttings. Range admits that after this leak, the level of total dissolved solids, or salts, spiked in the water. Of all these violations, the D.E.P. issued a citation for only the last. The D.E.P. declined to comment, citing the ongoing case.

In mid-July, Voyles’s 25-year-old daughter, Ashley, was riding her paint gelding, Dude, behind the chemical pond. Ashley could hear a hissing and bubbling sound in the stream. There were pools of red foamy oil slick. “It was rainbow water,” Ashley said. The next morning Haney and Voyles called in the alphabet soup of government agencies they’ve contacted over the past year to test the water in the pools: the D.E.P., the E.P.A., the Fish and Boat Commission. They also called Range Resources. Sunday, the D.E.P. spokesman, said that it was most likely decayed vegetation that gave off gas. Later, test results of the area commissioned by Range Resources revealed the presence of acetone, toluene, benzene, phenol, arsenic, barium, heavy metals and methane.

Despite the years of intense suffering and displacement experienced by families such as the Haneys and Voyles, the companies causing those impacts rarely experience any consequence at all. As CBS reported yesterday about the Yeager fracking impoundment in Amwell Township in Washington County, Pennsylvania — the one next to the Haney and Voyles’ homes:

DEP spokesman John Poister says he doesn’t know how large of a fine Range Resources could face because the extent of the pollution is still being investigated.

The DEP is also working with the company on two other impoundments where chloride has leaked into the ground.

Range has been removing polluted soil from one of those, also in Amwell, while the DEP is monitoringanother site in Cecil Township after Range tests found polluted groundwater there last month.

The polluted soil being removed so far has amounted to 11,000 tons of contaminated soil, according to this report from WTAE in Pittsburgh.

Range continues to claim, through spokesman Matt Pitzarella, that no neighboring families on McAdams Road were affected.

And PA DEP appears to be attempting to treat the issue as if salt is the only contaminant in those waste pits.

Where is the truth, and what will Range’s penalty be?

Go ahead. Call PA DEP at 1-866-255-5158 to ask why any open, plastic-lined frack pits exist in PA at all. Ask what portion of Range’s income the fine will be. Exactly what is the price for clean water, clean soil, clean air, animals that live instead of die, and public health? Is a little tiny one-time slap from PA DEP just the price of doing business for Range, which claimed $1.5 billion in revenue for 2012? What will it take to make our water sacred to us again?

7 Comments
  1. Iris Marie Bloom permalink
    August 7, 2014 8:54 pm

    Another vital source of information about the Haney / Voyles experience with Range Resources is here: “Families Sue Range Resources for Fraud and Contamination” from Texas Sharon: http://www.texassharon.com/2012/05/26/families-sue-range-resources-for-fraud-and-contamination/

  2. jenn permalink
    August 7, 2014 8:58 pm

    Fracking is no joke, and it is contaminating the streams, rivers and farmland that we all used to hold so dear. Our family farm is now laden with pipelines, and the wells are only beginning. Those close by in Connoquenessing have already had their water forever damaged.

    This is what they do:

    1. Ask you to sign a contract for an amount of money. Don’t sign it. Ask any attorney to review it, and they’ll show you how it basically allows them to do anything with your land, absolves them from any responsibility when things happen, and prevents you from taking legal action when it does. It should be criminal.

    2. When they say that they do “initial water tests” before they start fracking, they actually do – but these tests don’t cover many of the chemicals that can leach into your water and harm you. That way, when they appear later and you complain they can say “well, we didn’t test for those, maybe they were here beforehand?” You can’t prove anything. Have your own water tests done (it’s called “split testing” with a water testing agency)

    3. Get earthquake insurance – so that when your foundation cracks from the tremors that will come, that you don’t have foundation problems in your home.

    They prey on those who don’t know any better, those who are poor, and those who buy into the lies they tell. Many seem like sincerely nice people when you talk to them…but please, do your homework. It’s the biggest deception going, and it’s killing our land.

  3. Iris Marie Bloom permalink
    August 7, 2014 8:58 pm

    And here is a link to Rep. Jesse White’s letter to PA DEP confronting them about their denial that residents have complained about water impacts from one of the Range Resources leaking frack waste pits: http://supportjesse.com/2014/08/01/pa-dep-caught-in-lie-about-water-contamination-complaints-at-marcellus-shale-wastewater-impoundment/

  4. Ann Dixon permalink
    August 8, 2014 12:33 pm

    I just called the DEP 1-866-255-5158. A menu asked for me to press different # s, depending upon which county my complaint is in. I pressed #5 for Washington County. Got a voice mail. Said to leave name of township. Don’t know that. I did leave my contact info. and a question about what percentage of Range’s income the fine will be.

    • Iris Marie Bloom permalink
      August 8, 2014 2:22 pm

      Great going, Ann. The impoundment in question is in Amwell Township, on McAdams Road, in Washington County. Range also has ANOTHER leaking frack pit in Amwell Township, and yet another leaking frack pit in Cecil Township. Each one is severely problematic, but this one on McAdams Road is the one that should have been shut down YEARS ago after about 21 animals died or were stillborn or born dead and deformed, with severe illness in two families, resulting in displacement. It is surreal that Range was allowed to keep operating in PA any more at ALL after that news came out in 2011, let alone that they kept this particular fracking waste impoundment operating. Range should be be given fines so severe that they actually fire their professional team of denialists and consider the morality of their actions instead. How moral is it to pollute water and air, kill animals, make children sick, and sign contracts with Norway to export the fracked NGLS for a higher rate of profit overseas? Send them all back to ethics school, starting with Matt Pitzarella, their spokesman, who fabricated some story about his education in the field of… yes, ethics.

  5. August 8, 2014 10:09 pm

    I just called (left message) the Pitspburgh DEP regional offfice (serves Washington county). Tip for callers: press 5 for that office (you won’t have to listen thru the litany of counties to get the right office).

  6. Ann Dixon permalink
    August 11, 2014 8:07 pm

    Someone from the DEP returned my voice message. (See my August 8 comment). She said the incidents are still under investigation and she doesn’t know when the investigation will be over or what percentage of profit Range will have to pay. She said if I have a complaint, I can file a report with the complaint coordinator for the regional office. Kurt Smith 412 – 442 – 4184

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