Appalachian Basin

Pa. Supreme Court Affirms Ruling that Fracking Did Not Contaminate ‘Junkyard Plaintiff’s’ Water

It has been a rough year for activists who have made the Marcellus Shale the focal point of their efforts to perpetuate the myth that fracking is causing widespread water contamination. First a federal judge threw out last year’s multi-million dollar verdict for plaintiffs in a high-profile Dimock case, and now the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has finally closed the book on the seemingly endless efforts of the Washington County known as the “junkyard plaintiff” to falsely pin his well water problems on Range Resources.

Earlier this week, the state Supreme Court denied a petition for appeal from Loren Kiskadden,  joining the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, Washington County Court of Common Pleas, and the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) to become the fourth judicial body to uphold the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) 2011 ruling that the problems in Kiskadden’s well were not “caused by gas well related activities, particularly at the Yeager well site operated by Range.” Kiskadden was seeking to appeal the Commonwealth Court ruling in October 2016 that affirmed the 2015 decision of the Environmental Hearing Board which upheld DEP’s findings – more details on all of those in a moment.

Further, the allegations against Range regarding the Yeager location have been rejected by no fewer than four government agencies — Pennsylvania DEP, U.S. EPA, U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Here is a quick review of the history involving Kiskadden’s claims:

  • In 2010, the DEP under then Secretary and PennFuture founder John Hanger — hardly an industry cheerleader — determined that Range’s operations did not affect or impact these water supplies.
  • Also in 2010, the DEP determined local air quality was not negatively affected at this location, as the report “did not indicate a potential for major air-related health issues associated with the Marcellus Shale natural gas activities.”
  • 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.
  • Later in 2015 the Commonwealth Court again re-affirmed the DEP and the EHB findings.
  • Then in October 2016 the Washington County Court of Common Pleas entered a summary judgment dismissing a lawsuit 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 which concluded that fracking has “not led to widespread, systemic impact on drinking water resources in the United States.”
  • Finally 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.”

While this closes the chapter on Kiskadden’s allegations, it is not the end of the story in Amwell Township, where there are still other homeowners in the Yeager well vicinity that have pending lawsuits with Range. The Voyle and Haney families will soon be heading to trial over allegations of negligence, represented by the same attorney as Kiskadden.

These two families were written about extensively in this New York Times hit piece, which EID previously wrote about here. Interestingly, these water wells are located closer to the Yeager well pad than Kiskadden’s, but water tests have shown they have a lower presence of contaminants than his well did. The EHB findings actually mention this:

 “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.” (Pg. 38)

While those cases have yet to go to trial, it is worth noting that in letters sent to the Voyles in September and October 2011, DEP concluded that “the methane gas in your water well was clearly identified through isotopic analysis to be drift gas, not natural gas that would be coming from a gas well” and that “Range has not contaminated your water supply.”

EID will update more on that case when the trial occurs.

Following the federal judge’s decision earlier this year on Dimock,  Cabot may also head back to court regarding that nuisance lawsuit, as well as for its own version of a “junkyard plaintiff” lawsuit that was recently filed. Nonetheless, these two court rulings still deliver serious blows to the arguments against two companies that fractivists have crucified and smeared for years without actual proof they caused contamination.

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