Three families in western Pennsylvania believe a leading hydraulic fracturing (fracking) company and two water testing labs are conspiring to produce false results that show natural gas drilling is not contaminating their private water wells.
According to a report from The Pittsburgh (Pa.) Post-Gazette newspaper, all three live in Washington County, Pa., one of the epicenters of a natural gas drilling boom in the region which has led to thousands of active fracking wells being opened in the last five years.
This drilling, many residents believe, has caused widespread and localized contamination of water wells, groundwater, local streams, and farm fields, and has begun to cause health side effects like breathing difficulties such as asthma and skin irritations.
Those included in this lawsuit, filed late last week in Washington County Common Pleas Court, claim Range Resources has worked in concert with Microbac Laboratories Inc. and Test America, a pair of commercial and independent water testing labs, to produce results that show water sampled from each family’s private wells has not been tainted by the fracking process.
A fracking well operates by using hundreds of thousands of gallons of fresh water, a drill, sand, and mix of more than 600 chemicals (including at least 60 known toxins) which are ushered through an underground well shaft until the combination reaches a shale bed about two miles below the surface. The rock is broken apart to release natural gas deposits. By design, everything that goes into the well, along with the natural gas pockets released by the fracturing, is supposed to return to the surface where it is collected, stored, processed, and removed from the site. In many cases this is not happening and either through shoddy well construction or poor management of a well site, drilling fluid has been leaked numerous times in the vicinity of the Plaintiffs’ property because it can’t be properly collected or is lost through cracks in the underground well.
The families suing Range Resources, one of the leading natural gas companies using fracking drilling at numerous sites across the country, believe the company’s drilling has led to contamination of their water wells and has resulted in them suffering from several different health problems but they are unable to prove this because they believe Range Resources has conspired with the two water testing companies to produce false and misleading results. According to the lawsuits, cited in the newspaper report, the families have all suffered from some or all these side effects they blame on fracking contamination, “nose bleeds, headaches and dizziness, skin rashes, ear infections, nausea, and numbness in extremities.”
One family specifically blames Range Resources for contaminating the groundwater on their farm with “chemicals from a leaking drilling waste pit and a 3 million-gallon hydraulic fracturing fluid flowback impoundment” starting in late 2010. Though they believed the water was contaminated, Range Resources countered the claims with tests from the other two defendants in the lawsuit that showed the water from their well was safe for all uses, including drinking. Believing the company, the family continued to drink their water and give it to their farm animals, some of which eventually got sick and died unexpectedly.
The families filing the lawsuit are seeking unspecified punitive damages from a jury trial, the report adds.