Marcellus Shale

New Book Recycles Old Claims to Push Anti-Shale Narrative

A recent book by Eliza Griswold – the same author who gave an infamously inaccurate portrayal of shale development in Amwell Township, Pa., in a 2011 New York Times article – takes readers back to Southwestern Pennsylvania over claims of water contamination that have long-since been resolved by multiple regulatory agencies, courtrooms, and expert analyses.

The book, entitled Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America, follows several families who sued a natural gas company over alleged health impacts, ranging from polluted water to sick animals. But based on Ms. Griswold’s telling, a casual reader might be misled about the details of these cases – especially if he or she is not familiar with the extensive research that contradicts the narrative in Amity and Prosperity.

Here’s a summary of the most important facts to know about Amwell and Ms. Griswold’s attempt at revisionist history:

  • Mr. Kiskadden’s water well, which he and his attorneys claim to have been polluted by gas drilling, is located within a junkyard on his property.
  • In 2011, DEP wrote a letter to Ms. Beth Voyles that said there was “no credible evidence” of water contamination as she had alleged. “In summary, DEP has determined that Range has not contaminated your water supply,” DEP wrote.
  • Ms. Voyles alleged chemicals from Range Resources’ operations had killed her dog in July 2010 and a horse in October 2010. Statements from Ms. Voyles’ veterinarian disputed this, as did subsequent tests by a state-certified laboratory. The veterinarian explained that both tests were inconclusive for glycols (anti-freeze) and suggested the dog’s death may have been the result of a common cancer. According to the veterinarian, the horse may have died from toxicity of the liver.
  • The Voyles also claimed that the alleged water issues caused fertility problems for their dogs, and several puppies were born with birth defects. Ms. Haney claimed her son’s goat aborted two babies and had to be put down due to the alleged water issues. Comprehensive tests from a state-certified laboratory found the water supplies met all of the U.S. EPA’s minimum water quality standards.
  • State regulators visited Ms. Voyles’ property at least 24 times over three months and never detected malodors.
  • Court-ordered, independent medical examinations have found oil and gas had not impacted the plaintiffs’ health despite claims of arsenic poisoning, nosebleeds, nausea, headaches, joint aches, rashes, an inability to concentrate and a metallic taste in plaintiffs’ mouths. DEP air quality sampling of the Yeager impoundment in July 2010, as part of a larger study, “did not identify concentrations of any compound that would likely trigger air-related health issues associated with Marcellus Shale drilling activities.”
  • The “pro bono” attorney (John Smith) for the plaintiffs stands to make up to 33 percent of any awarded damages, which is greater than any of the individual plaintiffs. Smith, who assisted Griswold with her 2011 article on Amwell, also spearheaded litigation over Pennsylvania’s Act 13 of 2012 that zoned out shale development.
  • Ms. Griswold’s new book was funded by the Rockefeller Family Fund, which has been a major funding source for the anti-fossil fuel “Keep It In the Ground” movement. That includes funding the #ExxonKnew campaign that Steve Coll, Griswold’s husband and Dean of the Graduate School at Columbia School of Journalism, has been actively involved in.

 

Here are some additional facts and information.

Fact 1: Testing does not support the plaintiffs’ claims of contamination.

Three neighboring residents from Amwell Township, Pa. – John and Beth Voyles, Stacey Haney and Loren Kiskadden – complained in 2010 and 2011 that Range Resources’ natural gas drilling and its water impoundment located near their properties had contaminated their water wells and the air, causing health impacts for the families and their animals. For reference, the Voyles property is closest to the well site and impoundment, followed by the Haney property and the Kiskadden residence is furthest away.

Thorough testing by the Pa. Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Range Resources showed natural gas development had not impacted these properties. Here is the timeline of those events:

  • In August 2010, the Voyles complained about changes in their water quantity following the construction of the Yeager impoundment. Range supplied the family with temporary water beginning September 9, 2010, and paid for a new well to be constructed later that month. The Voyles’ new water well became operational on October 20, 2010.
  • The Voyles and Haney filed complaints with Range and DEP over potential water contamination in November 2010. EID does not have the testing schedule or results for Ms. Haney, however the Voyles’ water supplies – the closest to the Yeager well site and impoundment – were tested by DEP on November 23 and by Range on November 10, 19 and 23. Range also supplied both families with temporary water.
  • Range received the full results of the extensive water tests conducted at the Voyles property and sent the family a letter on January 14, 2011, explaining that the tests “concluded that your water has not been impacted by our operations” and that “with concurrence from the DEP,” the company planned to discontinue the temporary water service by January 21.
  • Following additional complaints, the DEP tested the Voyles’ water on February 16, 2011. Range also tested the water supply again on April 12, 2011.
  • The Voyles also complained in May 2011 of an odor that smelled like raw sewage from the impoundment that was noticeable on the properties. In response, DEP tested the impoundment and Voyles’ property for malodor on nine separate occasions in May and another nine times in June 2011.
  • In June 2011, Loren Kiskadden filed complaints over potential water contamination. His water supply was tested by both DEP and Range on June 6, 9 and 27.
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also tested the Voyles’ water on July 27, 2011.
  • The DEP tested the Voyles’ property and the Yeager impoundment for malodors five additional times in July and another in August 2011.
  • In September and October 2011, DEP sent determination letters to Mr. Kiskadden and two to the Voyles for their malodor and water complaints.

In a September 2011 letter to Mr. Kiskadden the DEP explained,

“We have concluded our investigation and cannot make the determination, for the reasons summarized below, that the problems in your water well are caused by gas related activities, particularly those at the Yeager well site operated by Range.

“Your water well is located over 2,500 feet away from the Yeager gas well and impoundment. We were not able to obtain complete information about the construction of the water well, with depth estimates ranging from 200-400 feet. Regardless, the hydrology does not support a link between the water well and the Yeager gas well. From a geologic examination of the area, the likely recharge area for your water supply was identified to be in a northwesterly direction, whereas the Yeager well site is located to the northeast of your water well. Communication between the Yeager well site and your water well would not be expected.” (emphasis added)

Mr. Kiskadden’s letter continued,

In summary, DEP has determined that the high levels of sodium and dissolved solids in your water supply, as well as the presence of dissolved methane, are not the result of Range’s actions at the Yeager well site, or any other gas well related activities. Neither the hydrogeologic nor analytic results support a link between gas well related activity and your water well and point rather to natural conditions as the source of these problems.” (emphasis added)

Also in September 2011, DEP sent a letter to the Voyles, explaining,

“The Department did not detect malodors on your property, and could not establish any violation of the malodor regulation.” (emphasis added)

The Voyles’ malodor letter concludes,

In summary, over a period of nearly three months, on 24 separate occasions, the Department visited your property and detected no malodors as that term is defined at 25 Pa. Code § 121.1, on your property. Accordingly, no violations of the malodor regulation, 25 Pa. Code § 123.31, could be established.” (emphasis added)

In regard to the Voyles repeated water contamination complaints, the DEP explained in an October 2011 letter,

We have concluded our investigation and have determined that there is no evidence to substantiate the complaint [that “Range’s well drilling and construction activities at the Yeager well site, including the associated frac water impoundment” “have contaminated your water supply”]. (emphasis added)

In summary, DEP has determined that Range has not contaminated your water supply.” (emphasis added)

The Voyles letter on water testing continued,

“These analyses have included testing for various inorganics, organics, and semi-volatile organics, as well as for combustible gas. Similar results were obtained for each of these tests. For each of sample analysis, all of the parameters analyzed that have established Primary and Secondary Maximum Contaminant Levels (“MCLs” and “SMCLs”) were found to be within the MCLs and SMCLs.”

In other words, dozens of visits from regulatory authorities and laboratory tests yielded little to nothing to substantiate the plaintiffs’ accusations.

Yet Ms. Griswold continues to repeat these claims in her new book and its promotion. She even calls the Yeager impoundment “a vast open waste pond that leaked and sent noxious gases into the air” – a direct contradiction to DEP’s determination.

Fact 2: Testing does not support plaintiffs’ claims of health impacts.

The plaintiffs also complained that drilling activity was responsible for animal health impacts, and later the plaintiffs’ and their families’ health. The Voyles in particular complained that the presence of glycols (anti-freeze) from shale development was responsible for the death of their dog and a horse, but the Voyles’ own veterinarians disputed claims that shale development was responsible for these deaths.

In a January 2011 letter from Range to the Voyles, the company described a conversation its representatives had with the veterinarians:

“On November 10, 2010 you voluntarily supplied Range Resources with lab results from both your dog and horse veterinarians. Upon review of these results, Range Resources contacted the canine and equine veterinarians. Based on our conversations with the canine veterinarian on or about November 11, 2010, it was stated by the veterinarian that the test results were inconclusive for anti-freeze poisoning and that another possible cause of death which was relayed to you was cancer, which the particular breed is prone to develop. Upon speaking with the equine veterinarian on November 19, 2010, the veterinarian stated the test results were inconclusive as to the cause of death. The veterinarian also stated that the horse had toxicity of the liver, which he felt was not related to anti-freeze poisoning but most likely due to exposure from heavy metals such as mercury or lead.” (emphasis added)

Range went on to test the Voyles’ water supply for heavy metals through a certified laboratory:

“The test results from these sampling events indicate that neither ethylene glycol nor any of the heavy metals including arsenic, mercury or lead were detected in samples takes from your spring and water well.” (emphasis added)

And an October 2011 DEP letter explained,

“Finally, you raised concerns that your water supply might be contaminated by glycols. There is no credible evidence of the contamination of your water supply by ethylene, di-ethylene or tri-ethylene glycol. … Furthermore, although the detection limits might have differed among the glycol analyses, as stated earlier, your water supply does not evince gas well-related contamination in any of the other parameters tested. There is no reason to believe that only glycols would have been detected. If the Yeager site had impacted your water supply, glycols would not be the only parameter affected.” (emphasis added)

Additional animal complaints from the plaintiffs included fertility issues and later birth defects in dogs, and fertility issues with a goat that later had to be put down. Further, the plaintiffs made numerous claims of human health impacts that included dizziness, and as Ms. Griswold described in her 2011 article of Ms. Voyles, “blisters in her nose and throat, headaches and nosebleeds, joint aches, rashes, an inability to concentrate, a metal taste in her mouth.”

Notably, these symptoms were not seen in additional residents also in close proximity to these shale operations. As Range explained on its website,

“Despite the plaintiffs’ health claims, they provided no evidence establishing a link between Range’s operations and the alleged ailments. Additionally, court ordered independent medical examinations that were conducted by qualified medical doctors, concluded that plaintiffs’ alleged symptoms had no correlation to alleged exposures due to oil and gas development.

“The independent medical examinations further concluded that the plaintiffs’ alleged health claims lacked consistency or reproducibility, as several neighbors lived in the same vicinity and did not report similar symptoms.” (emphasis added)

Further, during this time frame the DEP conducted air sampling of the Yeager impoundment as part of a larger air quality study of Southwestern Pennsylvania, and concluded,

“Results of the ambient air sampling did not identify concentrations of any compound that would likely trigger air-related health issues associated with Marcellus Shale drilling activities.” (emphasis added)

EID did not have access to the determination letters from DEP to Ms. Haney; however, Ms. Haney’s property lies between the Voyles and Kiskadden properties – both of which were found to have no impacts from natural gas activities.

Nonetheless, Ms. Griswold continues to perpetuate these dubious claims of health impacts. For instance, in her recent opinion piece on the book in the New York Times, Ms. Griswold describes the “hidden costs” of shale development, including “the more troubling health consequences of living next door to leaking pools of industrial waste — including dying animals and sick children.”

Fact 3: When water and air tests confirm natural gas development is not responsible, plaintiffs sued for conspiracy.

In 2011, after a battery of tests and regulatory assessments had been completed, John and Beth Voyles sued the DEP, claiming the agency did not thoroughly investigate the family’s claims of water contamination and odor complaints.

Then in 2012, the Voyles, Stacey Haney and Loren Kiskadden filed a lawsuit against Range, 12 contract companies and two water testing laboratories alleging that they “conspired to produce fraudulent test reports that misrepresented the families’ well water as good and contributed to their exposure to hazardous chemicals and a multitude of health problems.”

The accusations of a conspiracy and inadequate testing, however, also lacked merit.

Fact 4: Pennsylvania courts uphold testing results.

In addition to the air and water testing that has occurred on and around the plaintiffs’ properties, several state courts have weighed in on the matter. Mr. Kiskadden in particular has a long-history with the court system:

  • In 2015, an independent panel of environmental judges at the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board upheld the DEP’s exhaustive investigation which found that Range did not affect or impact water supplies. Notably, the EHB explained,

“In contrast, sampling of water wells and springs on the Voyles and Haney properties located between the Yeager site and Mr. Kiskadden’s well had lower concentrations of chlorides, sodium, total dissolved solids and pH than did Mr. Kiskadden’s well. This data does not support the theory that contamination is moving toward Mr. Kiskadden’s well through a series of fractures.” (emphasis added)

“The physical facts showed that his water well was located adjacent to a salvage yard with numerous automobiles and other solid waste products on the grounds over the years…The appellant never performed any maintenance on his water well or on his septic system.” (emphasis added)

  • Later in 2015, the Commonwealth Court re-affirmed the DEP and the EHB findings.
  • In October 2016 the Washington County Court of Common Pleas entered a summary judgment dismissing the 2012 lawsuit from all plaintiffs that alleged that TestAmerica, a water testing laboratory engaged in “fraud and civil conspiracy” with Range by “producing and permitting to be produced incomplete and allegedly misleading test results.” The dismissal also discussed that the U.S. EPA has also been testing the location, presumably as part of their historic hydraulic fracturing study that concluded that fracking was not a major threat to groundwater.
  • Also in October 2016 the Commonwealth Court once again upheld EHB and DEP’s findings explaining that “Kiskadden’s evidence did not outweigh strong, conflicting evidence that the contaminants in his well water, particularly in the ratios and concentrations detected, were naturally occurring and not unique to oil and gas activities. Moreover, his evidence did not prevail over the other credible evidence refuting the existence or likelihood of a physical pathway between his well and the Yeager Site.” (emphasis added)
  • In May 2017, the Pa. Supreme Court decided not to hear the Kiskadden case thereby upholding the previous court decisions. This ended Mr. Kiskadden’s legal pursuit.

Five separate courts, including Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, have upheld the DEP’s findings, yet Ms. Griswold continues to spread these unsubstantiated claims in her new book. In direct contradiction to the 2016 dismissal of the plaintiffs’ conspiracy lawsuit, for instance, Ms. Griswold told C-SPAN during a recent interview that the DEP was “testing for a wide range of contaminants, but they were only reporting a very small number of what they found. Even the guy who came out and read the water test results to you would not know if the rest of these constituents were in the water because the test results were incomplete.”

In other words, there were dozens of analyses and five separate court decisions, which suggests the preponderance of evidence is not on the side of the plaintiffs. Yet Ms. Griswold, who wants us to believe she’s not trying to push an anti-shale narrative, thinks this was all “incomplete.”

Fact 5: Plaintiffs’ attorney would see big money from a win or settlement.

The plaintiffs’ shared the same “pro bono” attorney, John Smith, who assisted Ms. Griswold with her original New York Times article. He also represented and served as solicitor for several townships that wanted to ban all oil and gas development through litigation opposing Act 13 of 2012, and represented the anti-fracking Delaware Riverkeeper in additional litigation.

Notably, Mr. Smith’s and his wife Kendra’s extensive litigation efforts have the potential to be quite lucrative. Ms. Griswold shares in her new book that Mr. Smith’s fees for litigation were far more than what the individual plaintiffs would receive. Griswold writes, “In her notebook, [Haney] jotted down [the Smiths’] fee: 33% CONTIGENCY, 40% IF GOES TO TRIAL [sic].”

Once Mr. Smith took on the plaintiffs’ cases “pro bono,” the terms changed to the Smiths receiving “33 percent from the adults and 25 percent from the children” from each family if a monetary settlement was awarded, as Griswold explains,

“If they did succeed in settling, whatever amount each family was awarded, the Smiths would take 33 percent from the adults and 25 percent from the children.”

Fact 6: Another Rockefeller funded storyline.

As Ms. Griswold explains in the book, her reporting on Amwell Township was funded by the Rockefeller Family Fund, an organization that has been actively engaged in funding the anti-fracking movement.

Further, the Rockefellers have admitted to directly lobbying state attorneys general to start the #ExxonKnew campaign and to funding the endeavor through the Rockefeller Brother Fund (RBF) and Rockefeller Family Fund (RFF). In fact, it was RBF and RFF that funded the investigation of ExxonMobil conducted by Steve Coll, Dean of the Graduate School at Columbia School of Journalism. That investigation sparked a campaign that saw state attorneys general harass non-profit organizations for opposing certain climate policies.

Mr. Coll, who is married to Ms. Griswold, openly admitted in December 2015 that the researchers went into the effort with a conclusion already in hand:

“The plan from the beginning was to conduct a wide-ranging investigation into how major fossil fuel companies carried out and managed internal research about climate change, how this research squared with their public statements and disclosures, and how internal scientific insights into climate change might have figured in the companies’ corporate planning and business operations. From the start, the project reporters have investigated these questions at many companies, including but hardly limited to ExxonMobil.”

As New York Magazine also reported,

“Meanwhile, the Family Fund had begun pursuing ‘a project that seemed potentially interesting but might not go anywhere,’ Kaiser said. In 2013, Wasserman met with Steve Coll, the dean of Columbia University’s School of Journalism, who had published a book called Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power. As they discussed the fund’s possible endowment of a reporting project on climate change, Coll said one topic from his book that had gone uninvestigated was the suggestion that what Exxon knew about climate change internally did not fit with its public proclamations. ‘Don’t believe for a minute that ExxonMobil doesn’t think climate change is real,’ a former Exxon manager had told Coll.

The Family Fund gave Columbia $550,000 to look into the topic. Around the same time, InsideClimate News, a website that covers the environment and receives significant funding from the Brothers Fund, began a similar investigation. Both sets of journalists say they initially looked into a number of fossil-fuel companies but it quickly became clear that Exxon had not only done the most robust climate research but had also sown doubt about climate change. When Coll gave an update to the Family Fund, he warned it that the soon-to-be published investigation would likely focus on Exxon.” (emphasis added)

Conclusion

Ms. Griswold’s investigation into the complaints made in Amwell Township disregard the exhaustive scientific evidence determining the plaintiffs’ accusations are without merit. The Washington Observer-Reporter recently noted that “Eliza Griswold is adamant: ‘Amity and Prosperity’ is ‘not another book about the evils of fracking.’” The Observer-Reporter continues, “To be sure, there’s plenty in ‘Amity and Prosperity’ that might give someone pause if a drilling rig were set up next door. But Griswold said the book … is more about how extraction industries impact communities, for better and for worse.”

Ms. Griswold will have to forgive readers if they choose not to believe that she is objectively calling balls and strikes, given how the narrative she concocts in her book is dramatically different from what regulators, independent laboratories, and medical professionals have determined – all of which have been affirmed in multiple courtrooms.

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