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Activist claims well contaminated by gas drilling


VARICK -- An environmental activist says he's uncovered the "first documented case" of groundwater pollution caused by a controversial natural gas drilling practice.

Walter Hang of Toxics Targeting says the drinking water supply to a home in the Seneca County town of Varick was "contaminated" after the Chesapeake Energy Company used hydraulic fracturing of "fracking" to drill for natural gas some 2,000 feet below ground.

"Fracking" involves injecting a mixture of sand and chemicals to free up the natural gas by fracturing geological formations. The gas industry claims fracking is safe and there is not a single credible case of groundwater contamination from the practice.

Laurie Lytle disagrees. She says her well water became contaminated two years after after fracking was used on her neighbor's property. She says Chesapeake Energy paid for the damages by installing a filtration system but now she has a "major concern" after learning the process involved chemicals.

When contacted for a response, Matt Sheppard of Chesapeake Energy said "Chesapeake tested water at the Lytle residence on three separate occasions. Testing occurred prior to drilling, after drilling and once again after the well was completed, or fractured. The results of all three water analyses show little variation between the many different testing parameters and no apparent degradation in water quality. All analyses -- pre-drill, post-drill and post-completion -- demonstrated that no contamination had occurred."

Sheppard continued, saying "As a courtesy, Chesapeake has contacted Mrs. Lytle and will provide her with information about the frac additives used in completing the Swartley #2 well, and to reassure her through additional testing to confirm that none of the additives encroached into her well water."

Representing the gas industry, Chris Tucker of Energy In Depth says the "draft regulations...rank among the toughest and most aggressive in the entire nation." He adds, the activists.."got literally every single thing they asked for from this process."

Tucker continues, saying “Fracturing technology has been in commercial use for more than 60 years, has been deployed 1.1 million times, and is used on 9 out of 10 wells developed today. In all that time, not a single credible case of groundwater contamination has ever been linked to hydraulic fracturing. So yes: I do believe the Marcellus can be explored safely and efficiently, and no -- I do not believe, and the history does not show, that the public’s water would in any way be affected under a scenario that allows producers, under the watchful eye of DEC, to develop the region's abundant reserves of clean-burning natural gas – and create thousands of local jobs in the process.”

“The draft regulations released by DEC easily rank among the toughest and most aggressive in the entire nation -- not a single stage of the process was excluded from oversight. Activists wanted no-drill buffer zones; they’re in there. Activists wanted DEC inspectors on-site; they’ll be there. Activists wanted every drop of water tested and analyzed before it leave the well-pad; that’s in there. Activists wanted complete and unconditional access to the materials used in the process; that’s in the there too. These folks got literally every single thing they asked for from this process. Now they just want one more thing: Let’s shut the whole thing down.

“Mr. Hang may have gotten 6,000 folks to sign a petition, but 900,000 other New Yorkers are currently out of work. Thankfully, we’re talking about a technology and a process that stands to create tens-of-thousands of high-wage jobs right here in New York,” says Tucker.

Hang and Lytle are calling for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to investigate the incident and block proposed regulations for gas drilling in the Marcellus shale formation that would involve fracking.