Which leads us to Rex Energy and its arguments regarding the groundwater issues in the Woodlands area of Connoquenessing Township. The plethora of excuses and explanations as to why Rex Energy couldn't possibly be to blame for residents' water woes disintegrates quickly upon closer examination.
- “The affected water wells are uphill from our drilling operations.” Anyone with the most basic knowledge of hydraulic fracturing is familiar with the phenomenon of “flowback,” in which the mixture of water, sand and chemicals injected into the earth at high pressure returns to the surface at high pressure through the vertical wellbore. Sometimes this occurs so forcibly and uncontrollably as to result in a “blowout,” as has occurred in Clearfield and Bradford counties. In both those cases, the fluids were under sufficient pressure to keep them spewing forth for 12-16 hours from thousands of feet beneath the surface. That kind of pressure can also push fluids thousands of feet uphill through permeable bedrock to pollute an aquifer if the seals around the cement gas-well casings are flawed. A recent Associated Press investigation revealed previously undisclosed well-casing issues at Rex wells in the Woodlands area, just prior to the first complaints of water issues from Woodlands residents. (“Smoking gun” #1.)
- “There are other residents in the area who have had no water problems.” This is consistent with drilling-related contamination reports statewide and nationwide: some domestic water supplies are affected and others are not. I liken it to the well-known capricious damage patterns that can occur with tornadoes: one house can be demolished while one next to it escapes unscathed. This speaks to the well-documented unpredictability of migratory pathways for gases, fluids and pollutants underground.
- “Scientific tests show that natural gas development has not impacted water quality in the area.” Research that I have been engaged in for several months has yielded several statements from scientists and scientific organizations saying that high-volume hydraulic fracturing for natural gas extraction has not been adequately studied to understand all of its potential environmental impacts. If the DEP, Rex Energy and its hired laboratories are not finding a link between drilling and contamination in the Woodlands, it could be because they don't know what to look for. That sounds better than saying that they know what to look for and are intentionally not looking for it. Unfortunately, that seems to have occurred, also: pollutants that showed up in initial water testings were not tested for in follow-up testings. This also occurred in a contamination case in Washington County, resulting in a lawsuit: Voyles v. DEP.
- “There's been bad water out there for years.” This statement has been made repeatedly by Connoquenessing Township officials and area old-timers, and alluded to by Rex Energy in suggesting other causes for the area's water woes. While I can't speak to the “ancient history” of the Woodlands area, I can speak to the recent history of its impacted residents. For at least a decade, each of these families had good, clean water to drink, cook with and bathe in. Then Rex Energy began drilling in the area, and within a few months they had water that looked bad, smelled bad, tasted bad, made them sick and gave them rashes. Either that or they lost their water completely, and dependable natural springs on their properties dried up. Not just one family, but multiple residences, more or less simultaneously.
The gas industry likes to say that residents may be “inconvenienced” by natural gas drilling. The residents of the Woodlands have not been “inconvenienced.” Their lives have been severely disrupted and their health has been severely impacted. To unceremoniously “close the book” on investigations into their troubles when so many indicators point to the culpability of the gas industry for the disruption of their lives is unconscionable.