Texas, Pennsylvania and Wyoming homeowners whose water has been contaminated by gas fracking operations called on Congress today to hold hearings about what they see as the natural gas industry's widespread negative impacts on water, air and communities.
They also called on the EPA to reopen cases where communities or residents have lost their once-clean water after drillers blasted water and chemicals deep into underground shale deposits to obtain gas in a process known as "fracking." Already, last fall, some 250,000 Americans submitted public comments as part of a drive to get the EPA to reopen its investigations.
Speaking at a news conference on Capitol Hill, the residents said they're sick and tired of hearing officials doubt that their water wells were contaminated by drillers when EPA, state and private reports all verify that many dangerous chemicals appeared in their water after wells were "fracked" nearby.
The cases the residents want reopened include sites near Dimock, PA; Pavilion, WY and Fort Worth, TX.
Earlier this week, 200 organizations that oppose fracking submitted a letter to President Obama and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy asked them to meet with the victims of fracking-related water contamination.
In Dimock Township, 19 families remain without water after drilling operations nearly five years ago apparently contaminated water wells, said rural Dimock resident Roy Kemble.
"We still do not have water," he said, explaining that his household is served by tanks of water and bottled water.
"I'm tired of trucking water in, when I had a perfectly good well. I'm tired of buying bottled water too," he said, noting that his house, once worth $400,000 is now "worth zero" because it has no clean water supply.
Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., which drilled in the Dimock region, has said the methane in rural residents' water occurred naturally.
In 2010, the EPA investigated and found that wells had been contaminated and ordered Cabot to supply residents with replacement water. But the agency later pronounced the water to be OK.
Fracking opponents at Wednesday's gathering noted that the EPA also withdrew from cases of water contamination in Pavilion, WY, where the agency turned the matter over to the state, and in the Parker County case, which also was given to the state.
But the states are not ameliorating the situation. The local investigation in Wyoming is ongoing, and partially funded by Encana, the very firm that is accused of causing fracking pollution, said John Fenton, head of Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens, which is seeking remediation.
In Texas, the Parker County case has morphed into a lawsuit in which the drilling company is suing the landowner, who has accused the drillers of ruining his water supply. That landowner, Steve Lipsky, was at the hearing, but said he was limited in what he could say by the court case. His case is detailed in the film, Gasland II, by Josh Fox, which tracks cases of water contamination across the U.S.
In the film, Lipsky famously demonstrates how he can light a fire at the end of a water hose, mirroring a similar demon of a kitchen tap bursting into flames in Pennsylvania in the first Gasland film.
Fox, who was also at the hearing, echoed the residents in complaining that Congress has been ignoring the damage being caused by fracking.
"We need someone in the Senate or the House to come forward and say we need to have citizen hearings in the House and the Senate. These people [the families whose water has been contaminated] know their reports backwards and forwards….The point is the science is there and we need some power to come in here and bring it to bear."
Pavilion landowner John Fenton said officials have been blinded by the influence of the natural gas industry and have forgotten that this is a "we the people country."
"Support the people you're supposed to support," he exhorted lawmakers, who weren’t actually in the room, but nearby in the Capitol.
"Take the dollar bills out from in front of your eyes and look at the people who live with this day in and day out, and find out that this is not the heaven on earth the gas industry has said it is," Fenton said.
During a discussion of how other businesses might be affected by fracking contamination, Fenton noted that the Angus cattle drinking the water that’s been contaminated in Pavilion will someday be someone's steak.
Ultimately, the US is trading its well-being and health for profits that don’t even come back to US communities, said Kemble and another affected landowner Craig Stevens, who added that many natural gas companies have begun exporting their product.
Fracking is becoming a problem around the world, and before long it will affect everyone, Kemble predicted.
"Water is life and we're a closed loop system….We have to protect the planet," he said.
“We have a right to water and it’s being totally ignored,” said Stevens, a sixth generation Susquehanna County, PA, landowner and founder of Marcellus Patriots for Land Rights.
Competition for water also came up as another way that natural gas drilling hurts communities. While they didn’t mention the reported tensions between gas drillers and ranchers in Texas over the 4-6 million gallons of water being used to drill each well, Lipsky alluded to the difficulty of allotting so much water to fracking.
"We don't have the water to waste on it in Texas,” he said.
Congressman Matt Cartwright (D) of Pennsylvania's 17th District hosted the hearing at the Cannon House Office Building.
Jeremy Marcus, an aide to Cartwright spoke at the hearing, saying that some members of Congress still seem to believe the gas companies’ marketing pitch that there's never been "a single" instance of water contamination from fracking.
“We hear at every hearing that there's not been a single case of contamination due to fracking . . . There are dozens and dozens of cases that have been verified that there is contamination," he said.
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