Medina County families say drilling is polluting their water wells
Two Medina County couples want a federal court to require periodic medical testing for them after they said they were exposed to toxins from a gas drilling company working 2,500 feet from their homes.
Neighbors Mark and Sandra Mangan, and William and Stephanie Boggs, who live on State Road in Granger Township, said Landmark 4 LLC's drilling operation contaminated their private water wells, their houses and land with hazardous gases, chemicals and industrial wastes.
The Mangans and Boggses said Landmark didn't have sufficient cement casing on its wells and was negligent in training staff. In separate lawsuits filed against the company this week, the couples said their homes have lost value, they "live in constant fear of future physical illness," and they pay for water samples and water from outside sources.
"These acts and omissions allowed Defendant (Landmark) to save millions of dollars in costs they should have expended to properly contain and control the substances emanating from their facility," the lawsuits said. Neither couple would comment for this story.
Hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling to get at oil and gas involves discharging enormous volumes of "fracking fluid," or "drilling mud" that emit dangerous chemicals, they contend in their complaints. They also cite diesel fuel and lubricants used in well operations.
Landmark Managing Partner Geoffrey Gordon-Creed said that although the lawsuits refer to horizontal drilling -- a staple of the shale exploration throughout eastern Ohio -- Landmark was not using that technique in the wells cited by the two families. He did not explain what technique operators were using.
Gordon-Creed, a lawyer in San Francisco, also said the couples' assertion that hydraulic fracturing at the shale gas wells contaminated their water wells was made "several weeks if not months before the (gas) wells were actually fracked, and the state performed a full investigation into their allegations and found them to be baseless."
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources found no evidence that nearby drilling for natural gas had tainted the couples' tap water.
However, a recent report by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which is part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said drinking water problems at the Mangans' and Boggs' wells indeed were linked to gas drilling. But the agency said natural gas in the water wells could be from a previously abandoned gas well, not Landmark's operation.
The Granger Township families have hired prominent Cleveland attorney John Climaco, who tapped William Dubanevich of Parker Waichman in New York. Dubanevich specializes in lawsuits over water contamination.
Climaco and Dubanevich said in a phone interview Tuesday that they could not discuss the couples' medical concerns.
"We will be meeting in the next couple of weeks with a number of other groups in various parts of Ohio who believe they are suffering from the same type of contamination," Climaco said.
The Mangans own a 2,300-square-foot, 11-year-old home on 2.3 acres about 10 miles west of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, property records show. The Boggses have a 1,300-square-foot house built in 1992, on 1.8 acres next door.
Their lawsuits say the increased risk of health problems from exposure to toxic chemicals and fumes from Landmark's wells can only be appropriately addressed "by the creation of a comprehensive court-established medical monitoring program supervised by the court and funded by the defendant."
The program should keep the families posted on any exposure to unhealthy chemicals from the drilling, which began around September 2008, the Mangans and Boggses said.
The lawsuits, which also ask for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, call for the court to approve a "monitoring trust fund" to cover the cost of any drilling-related medical tests the plaintiffs undergo.
Gordon-Creed said since there was no basis for the lawsuit to begin with, "obviously there's no basis for the damage claim or the request for medical monitoring."
Michael Hardy, a partner at Thompson Hine's Cleveland office who helps lead the firm's shale practice group, said it's difficult to prevail in a bid for medical monitoring. A handful of medical monitoring cases tied to fracking have popped up in Pennsylvania and Arkansas, he said.
Landmark 4 has five employees working in drilling operations between Akron and Cleveland, Gordon-Creed said. The Delaware-headquartered oil and gas company also has operations in California, Utah, Texas and Pennsylvania, with its "nerve center" in San Francisco.