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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Voices of Connoquenessing Township

The following is testimony that was presented to the EPA in Pittsburgh on September 27, 2011.

Early in the summer of 2011 I started to see hydraulic fracturing wells moving into my area of Butler County.

I sat down to write a letter to my state representative about my concerns regarding traffic and taxation.  I starting doing some research to see if my worries had any merit.  What I found eventually led me 4 miles from my home, to Connoquenessing Township.
The short video I’m about to show you focuses on Kim McEvoy and her three-year-old daughter, Skylar.  I hope you find it informative.

What she says about the headaches is true. 
Mine started when the center of my forehead, right here, started to heat up.  In a short time it was all over my head.  I could smell nothing, but my eyes were watering and I could taste metal in my mouth and on my lips. A home owner explained to me that the wind was blowing from the 11 wells operated by REX Energy along an 8/10 of a mile stretch of Woodlands Rd.

In the Woodlands there are at least 11 people affected by the air and water contamination.  Many are too afraid to speak to outsiders about it.  I was able to speak with seven adults from four different homes.  There were 4 children in those homes.  The youngest was 2 weeks old.

I received testimony from a local resident named Gretta.  Gretta is an elderly woman living alone without clean water.  She is blind and uses an oxygen tank.  Others are bringing her bottled water because, as she explained to me, see cannot see when her water changes colors.

Adding to the confusion, one woman accuses the drilling company of giving her family test results that state the compounds where not detected then later discovering in the fine print at the end of the report that the samples were not tested.

Four residents have also witnessed trucks dumping water on or near the bridges crossing Little Connoquenessing Creek. Large-bubbled foam has been repetetedly sited in the creek.

At least seven of the gas wells are on land owned by an orchard operating in Wexford, PA.  While there on Sunday I saw several trucks harvesting pumpkins.  When I contacted the general manager about the issues surrounding the well, he stated “nothing of that sort has been made known to us.”  I’ve attached the email to my written testimony.

The DEP website shows 5 violations at the wells in 2010.  Four of them involved releasing spent fracking fluid.  One was a problem with an impoundment pond.  Another for improper or defective cement well casing and failure to notify the DEP or submit a plan for correcting the problem.  The third was “Failure to properly store, transport, process or dispose of a residual waste.” And the forth was for a  “stream discharge of IW (industrial waste).” On August 31, 2011 REX Energy was cited for “Failure to notify DEP, landowner, political subdivision, or coal owner 24 hrs prior to commencement of drilling.”  Not only do they have a problem following the environmental rules apparently, they also have difficulty with transparency.  Why would they place the public in harm’s way by failing to notify a food producer about possible contamination of his product before it gets to market?  This, in my opinion, is pure negligence.

And while all this is taking place, the DEP’s own website indicates only one inspection at the Voll wells.

The effects of fracking on air, water, and soil is completely unpredictable.  In some areas the water table had been raised 20 feet.  In others it has dropped 30 feet.  It would take me hours to list all the different chemicals and their levels found in the water.  Air is much more difficult to detect.  The industry and press touted the Northeastern Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale Short-Term Ambient Air Sampling Report as proof that air quality has not been compromised due to shale drilling but did they bother to read the report?

In the second paragraph of the report the authors state that the results are limited and do not represent a comprehensive study nor did it address the cumulative impact of air emissions.  In a nutshell, it was inconclusive.  I have included the complete text at the end of my written testimony.

I did come today to speak on behalf of the people in Connoquenessing Township but also for myself and my family.  At least 132 new wells and permits have been granted in Butler county in 2011 alone.  Trucks carrying spent fracking fluids will soon be passing in front of my 13 month-old’s daycare.  They are fracking as we speak at a dairy less than a mile from my home.  This dairy produces milk for nearly 700 schools, including my 6 year-olds’.

It is clear that the industry can’t be trusted and that there are fundamental technical shortcomings associated with fracking that mere regulation cannot counteract or control.  The majority of the fracking process is inherently dangerous and unpredictable.  It cannot be done safely PERIOD.  Test and even monitoring is not the answer.

And this is why I am demanding a national ban on fracking effective immediately.  We need to put the burden of proof on the industry to prove that the process is safe and not on the taxpayers and individuals to prove that it is not.  It is time to step up the plate and put people before profit and let us make it clear here today that just as the fiercely independent citizenry of the Great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have played a central role in the formation of our country we will not sit idly by and watch her be destroyed.  We will use the traditions established on the advancement of liberty in the Revolution against the British, the rights conceived in our founding documents, and the universal justice revered by William Penn and we will not be silenced

Additional Testimony:

Email to Soergel Orchards

Good morning,

I'm a resident of Evans City and a Soergels' regular.  Earlier this week I met several local residents who have been experiencing water problems in the Connoquenessing Township area.  The DEP and REX Energy (the company who is preforming shale drilling the area) have both tested the water of at least two homes and have found elevated levels of many man-made chemicals in the well water.  The water is black and purple, stains the bathtubs and dishes, and foams out of the faucet.

One woman's family was violently ill with vomiting and uncontrollable diarrhea for weeks before their water turned foamy.  Her fingernails have changed pigmentation (called leukonychia) and her personal physician believes that she has arsenic poisoning.  She has been sent for further testing.

Another blind and elderly woman has been left without any water.

A third is being forced to move because here water and soil has been irreparably contaminated.  She has the water tests to prove it.

It is truly a sad situation and all of them blame the sudden changes on the new drilling taking place in their backyards.  There have never been any water problems of this nature in the area and within months of the start of drilling near their property, these problems began.

Yesterday I was told that the land where the drilling is taking place is associated with Soergels.  Is this true and if so have you been made aware of what is happening in Connoquenessing Township?  Is there produce in your market that is grown on this land or any others where fracking fluids are used or stored?  If so do you use well water for watering?  Is the water tested?

I look forward to your responses and I hope that you can understand that until my concerns are eased I will not be shopping at Soergels.

Email from Soergel Orchards

Thank you for the e-mail, and thank you for the support of our family’s business. As for the e-mail and information contained in it, I can tell you that we do have land that is leased to REX Energy, and I do know that water tests from our property have come back unchanged. Beyond that, I would recommend that you speak with REX or the DEP, or EPA on the other information that you heard about this past week, as nothing of that sort has been made known to us. We will be sure to speak with our contacts to see if we can learn anything from them.

As for your last question, the produce grown on the leased land is not irrigated with well water, as we do not own a well.

Again, thank you for the e-mail, and I hope it has been of some help.

Eric Voll
General Manager
Soergel Orchards
6th Generation

Northeastern Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale Short-Term Ambient Air Sampling Report
The scope of this short-term sampling effort was limited to several natural gas facilities in Susquehanna County. Due to the limited scope and duration of the sampling and the limited number of sources and facilities sampled, the findings only represent conditions at the time of the sampling and do not represent a comprehensive study of emissions. While this short-term sampling effort does not address the cumulative impact of air emissions from natural gas operations in northeastern Pennsylvania, the sampling results do provide basic information on the type of pollutants emitted to the atmosphere during selected phases of gas extraction operations in the Marcellus Shale formation. This information will also be utilized to determine if the scope of the study should be expanded and will identify areas where additional sampling may be warranted.

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