Appalachian Basin

**UPDATE** A Crystallizing Moment in Harrisburg

We’ll be posting a good bit of content (video and text) on this site over the next few days following-up on yesterday’s anti-Marcellus rally in Harrisburg – although, in the final analysis, calling it a “rally” might actually be a bit too generous.

From the reports we’ve seen and firsthand accounts we’ve received from EID’s Bill desRosiers, the crowd ranged from 150 to 200 folks – most of those shipped in from New York and Philadelphia, and all told about one-fourth of the total attendance number they thought they’d be getting. So sparse was the gathering, in fact, that the organizers’ original plan of stacking all their protestors in the backside of the Capitol facing Memorial Grove (a cavernous area typically used on inauguration day) was quickly abandoned — too much space, too few people. Plan B called for the organizers instead to shepherd their sheep into the Capitol building itself. Smaller space, easier to fill – but a tough decision considering how nice a day it was yesterday.  

As for the event itself, Bill’s got us covered on that – as mentioned, we should have a report and video (and maybe several of both) up and posted  before too long. But sifting through the press coverage this morning, tough not to notice how frequently a lady named Crystal Stroud from Towanda, Pa. is quoted in the papers. Indeed, a quick review of the clips suggests she may have netted more mentions than Josh Fox himself – nothing short of miraculous.

So what’s the deal with Crystal and her well? Well, after clicking around on the ‘net for a few minutes, we were able to uncover a couple interesting things.

For those who haven’t been following this thing, Crystal has become something of a celebrity among the opposition crowd – replete with a wrenching story about how Marcellus development and hydraulic fracturing has “ruined” her life. She’s even been featured in a “Faces of Fracking” advertisement campaign currently being run by back-of-the-phone-book law firm O’Malley and Langan (1:43 of this video).

Just one problem, though, counselor: The natural gas well that Crystal blames for contaminating her water well hasn’t even been hydraulically fractured. We’ll say that again, slowly: That. Well. Has. Never. Even. Been. Fracked. Undeterred, Crystal continues to argue that Marcellus development contaminated her water – if not from the fracturing process, if not from the production process, if not from the delivery process, then maybe from the drilling itself.

Of course, the more you look into how this well was actually developed, the less plausible Crystal’s charges become. For starters, none of the things that Crystal says were in her water were used in the actual muds or fluids needed to drill the well. But even if they were, Chief Oil and Gas — the company that Crystal has, after some reflection, decided to blame — had already installed multiple layers of protective casing and cement around that wellbore. Those protective layers remain 100 percent intact today, right now. You can check for yourself.

Finally, and perhaps most important, Chief employs a “closed-loop” system for waste retrieval and management. That means that not an ounce of dirt or anything else that comes back up from the well sees the light of the day from an impoundment. Instead, those wastes are captured at the wellhead and diverted directly into steel tanks – thus eliminating any and all pathways of exposure back into air, water or surrounding environment.

But hey, those compounds and minerals got into Crystal’s well somehow, didn’t they? Once again, our trusty Google machine points us to at least two sources that, as far as possible culprits go, are orders of magnitude more likely as pathways for contamination than a non-producing, non-fractured, closed-loop well. The first one we picked up from a letter to the editor last month in the Towanda Daily Review:

Regarding the issue of ground water contamination in Bradford County and the gas drilling. It should be of interest to all that there is a Federal Superfund site located in Terry Township, New Albany Twp. Route 393 known as the Bell Landfill. Several years ago — before the gas drilling began — a neighbor on our road voiced concern about the quality of the water in our wells. She had her water tested and it contained some rather nasty things and urged everyone on this road to do so. Mine was tested and the findings indicated my water contained all the same contaminants as hers. Interesting.

A little research and here are the contaminants found at the 33 acre Bell Landfill- ferric hydroxide sludge from GTE. Barium, arsenic, vinyl chloride, methylene chloride, heavy metal, manganese, cadmium, zinc, zinc compounds, and lead.

Over 800 wells were tested and found to be contaminated when the initial discovery was made of contamination at this site. These contaminants were all found in the both ground and surface water and soil at the landfill site as well as on the township road.

And look at this: EPA has an entire webpage devoted just to that Bell Landfill Superfund site. Apparently, the agency has been trying to clean up the place for over 20 years now, and not entirely successfully. Here’s what EPA itself has to say about the status of that remediation and the quality of the groundwater in that general area:  

The ground water is contaminated with arsenic and vinyl chloride from the former disposal activities. Leachate is contaminated with traces of organic pollutants, including methylene chloride, vinyl chloride, and high levels of heavy metals including manganese and arsenic. Surface soil is contaminated with arsenic and cadmium. After the landfill was closed, leachate seeped from the faulty collection system causing contamination of soils along the Township Road, contamination of an on-site pond, and odor. The volume of leachate, collected in tanks and off-site disposed, has not diminish significantly …

And just so you have it: here’s the more detailed, 41-page report from EPA’s Superfund office. That chart on page 17 is particular interesting – the one showing barium levels in the area 30 times greater than what’s found under normal conditions.

Of course, if the EPA Superfund report doesn’t do it for you, take a look at the 1998 report from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) showing dissolved levels of barium and strontium in the water hundreds of times greater than background levels – levels that existed long before any oil and gas development arrived. That 1998 report isn’t online, best we can tell – but we’ve got a copy of it, and will be linking to it just as soon as we get the damn thing scanned! Lots more to come on this story.

(6/9/11; 4:30 p.m.)

Couple more things to add to the pot now that I’ve finally figured out how to use the scanner machine. First up, a report released in Aug. 2007 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — specifically, its Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. It’s a report detailing the toxicological characteristics of barium, and if you have some time, it actually makes for an interesting read. But one section in particular jumped out to us, from page 142:

Barium concentrations in groundwater supplies have been known to exceed EPA’s maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 2.0 mg/L (2,000 μg/L) (EPA 2002a); this may be due to leaching and erosion of barium from sedimentary rocks (Calabrese 1977; Kojola et al. 1978). For example, community water supplies from deep rock and drift wells in northeastern Illinois have been found to have barium concentrations ranging from 1,100 to 10,000 μg/L (Calabrese 1977). Many communities in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and New Mexico have drinking water where the barium content is up to ten times higher than the MCL [maximum contaminant levels]  (EPA 2005c).

Keep in mind here that, although this particular report was issued in 2007, these citations go back years and in some cases even decades. Which brings us to the another report that’s definitely worth your attention – this one, a 1998 study of groundwater quality and composition in Bradford Co. and neighboring areas by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Here’s what they had to say on page 36:

Concentrations of dissolved barium that exceed U.S. EPA MCL of 1 mg/L are commonly found in groundwater from wells that penetrate restricted flow-zones. Twelve wells contain water that exceeds the U.S. EPA MCL for barium; the median dissolved barium concentration of the 12 was 2,050 ug/L.

But this report goes even further: it actually includes compositional data on specific wells right there in Granville Summit, Bradford Co., some within a quarter mile of the Stroud well. From the maps we’ve got, well no. 695 listed in Table 12 on page 37 looks to be right in that neighborhood. At only 37 feet deep, it’s a heck of a shallow water well – and almost the identical depth of the Stroud well.

See that barium number on well no. 695? 3.9 mg/L. And keep in mind: many of the wells featured in this report were sampled way back in the mid-1980s, long before any oil or gas development was anywhere to be found in this area. Isn’t it worth asking how barium was getting into water wells in the same area, and at the same depth, as the Stroud’s long before the Marcellus was ever developed in Bradford County?


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