Pennsylvania Still Don’t Know Frack

doh-dontknowfrackWhat’s in the fracking water is still a mystery. Frackorporation has written several pieces about the lack of chemical disclosure over the past two years.

Whether it’s drilling and fracking in the Fayetteville, Utica, Marcellus, Haynesville, Eagle Ford, Barnett, or the Bakken Shale, we are no closer to knowing what chemicals are being used and contaminating private water wells.

What’s in the fracking water is still a mystery. Frackorporation has written several pieces about the lack of chemical disclosure over the past two years.

Whether it’s drilling and fracking in the Fayetteville, Utica, Marcellus, Haynesville, Eagle Ford, Barnett, or the Bakken Shale, we are no closer to knowing what chemicals are being used and contaminating private water wells.


Although the industry remains shielded behind a wall of “trade secrets”, scores of politicians and piles of money, the shield is slowly breaking.

The Kiskadden family lived on the same property in Amwell Township, Washington County, PA for 30-40 years.   Their water came from the same water well without incident, complaint or any other indication of problems with their water.

Their water was fine, until one day in June 2011 when it turned grey and black, it foamed and bubbled, spewed visible sediment, and smelled like rotten eggs.

What changed the water after 30-40 years from drinkable to undrinkable?   Range Resources came drilling and fracking on the nearby Yeager property. The Kiskadden water comes from ground water sources approximately 2,800 feet from the Yeager property.

The Yeager property was developed by Range Resources and contains natural gas wells, an impoundment pond (also known as a frack pond), and a drill cutting pit.    The Kiskadden family contends leaks, spills, and other releases from Range Resources operations on the Yeager property have contaminated their sole source of water.

The Kiskadden’s contacted Range Resources and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) about the condition of their water.   DEP and Range Resources collected several samples on different occasions.

The DEP determined the condition of the Kiskadden water was not caused by gas-well related activities, however DEP did determine the water was polluted and not suitable for human consumption.

Case Closed? The devil is in the details.   DEP made this determination without reviewing all the data available from testing performed at and around the Yeager property.   If DEP had reviewed their own records and other available data they would have found multiple spills, leaks and releases occurred on the Yeager property prior to the Kiskadden’s water going bad.   Testing of many of these spills and releases contained the same parameters as was found in the Kiskadden water.

When private water wells goes bad and the suspected source of contamination is a drilling operation the driller’s position is “Prove It”.  The property owner must prove the drilling operations caused water contamination.

Drillers are encouraged to perform a “pre-drill” water test on the property where drilling occur and on nearby properties. ACT 13, passed in February 2012, recommended such pre-drill water tests and failure to do so would presume water contamination did come from drilling operations.

Again, the devil is in the details. The documentary, Triple Divide, revealed DEP stated one water test is insufficient.   DEP and the natural gas drillers maintain, one test is only a snapshot of water conditions for that particular day and do not reflect long term water quality which may change from season to season.

DEP further stated water testing should be done at least 4 times a year.

When asked why the DEP does not recommend water testing to be done 4 times a year, the answer was, it would cost homeowners too much and they won’t do it.

The timing of a water well contamination may happen shortly after drilling and fracking, or it may take days, weeks and even years as fossil fuel wells degrade and fail over time.

Eventually all fossil fuel wells will fail. For full monitoring of a water well, homeowners would need to test their water, 4 times a year, forever.

Act 13 releases drillers from responsibility after 1 year from the time a natural gas well is closed/plugged.   As an example, if a natural gas well is plugged on July 31, 2015, and the water well goes bad on August 1, 2016, the driller can no longer be held responsible.

As previously mentioned, the burden of proof lies on the property owner with the contaminated water.

Drillers often use the excuse of “water contamination is naturally occurring”, and point to Pennsylvania’s lack of standards for construction of water wells.

DEP investigations, inspections and water testing have been shown to be woefully inadequate.

Drillers must report chemicals used via FracFocus, however drillers are not required to report any chemicals deemed to be “proprietary” or “trade secret”.

A review by Harvard Environmental Law of FracFocus found there are no standards to determine which chemical(s) may be deemed as “proprietary” or “trade secret”. Additionally, there is no independent review of the chemicals reported with regards to accuracy.

To further complicate the situation, chemicals used in fracking will mix with deep ground formation water which may contain naturally occurring materials such as lead, arsenic, radium, barium, strontium and more.

More recently, PA Governor Tom Wolf signed ACT 47 which allows drillers to use Acid Mine Drainage emanating from coal mines as a water source for use in fracking.   Drillers enjoy immunity from any problems which may occur from using Acid Mine Drainage water.

What comes back up is a toxic blend of fluids mixed in with the natural gas or oil.

How do you determine if the source of contamination came from a drilling operation? Requiring the use of tracers is a solution. Pennsylvania regulations do not require drillers to use tracers.

A tracer may be a unique radioactive or chemical additive to the fracking chemicals specific to a gas well operation or stages of fracking a specific gas well.   If the tracer shows up where it is not suppose to, like a water well, then DEP and the driller knows which natural gas operation site is responsible.

Tracers have been field-tested at a spill site in West Virginia and downstream from an oil and gas brine wastewater treatment plant in Pennsylvania.

Tracers may be provided by or added to a chemical by the manufacturer, by a supplier of such chemicals or at the request of a driller.

In the Kiskadden case, the use of tracers by Range Resources subcontractors on the Yeager drill operations was found in depositions by employees of Multi-Chem and Universal Well Services, Inc. The employees were subpoenaed for a separate but parallel case in Washington County involving additional allegations of water contamination from Range’s Yeager well site.

According to the recent Kiskadden filing, Antimony — one of three solid tracers used at the Yeager well by Protechnics — another Range subcontractor, was also found at four times the federal maximum contaminant level for drinking water in Mr. Kiskadden’s well.

As of 2003 the isotopes Antimony-124, argon-41, cobalt-60, iodine-131, iridium-192, lanthanum-140, manganese-56, scandium-46, sodium-24, silver-110m, technetium-99m, and xenon-133 were most commonly used by the oil and gas industry because they are easily identified and measured.

According to the Material Safety Data Sheet TSCA 8(b), Antimony is toxic to blood, kidneys, lungs, the nervous system, liver, mucous membranes. Repeated or prolonged exposure to the substance can produce target organs damage, and first aid for exposure urges medical attention.


According to a motion filed Wednesday October 14, 2015, in Commonwealth Court by attorneys for Kiskaddens, the Range Resources didn’t tell nearby property owners in Washington County who were dealing with contaminated water wells that tracers were used to chart and analyze the reach of fracking chemicals used on the Yeager site in 2009. The motion continued, Range didn’t say it used specially formulated fracking tracers during a hearing before the state Environmental Hearing Board, after which the board affirmed DEP’s determination that Range’s Yeager 7H shale gas well in Amwell didn’t contaminate Mr. Kiskadden’s water.

Prior to the October 14, 2015 motion, Range Resources was ordered to disclose the chemicals used on the Yeager drilling operation site. Range Resources failed to do this and could not provide any satisfactory explanation why it was unable to do so.

Range Resources proposed to “reverse engineer” the products used on the Yeager site to determine the chemical composition. It was learned the reverse engineering attempts failed as some of the proprietary components in selected products were not a single missing chemical but rather an entirely new product – i.e. a “product within the product”.

If Range Resources had disclosed the use of Antimony, and DEP had performed a complete investigation and testing back in 2009, the source of the Kiskadden water contamination would have been found.

The broader implications is how many other private water wells cases has DEP simply dismissed and concluded there was no connection with a drill site activity, impoundment pond, leak or spills?

ACT 13, requires drillers to disclose chemicals used on a particular drill site to medical professionals. Medical professionals are required to sign a non-disclosure agreement, which would prevent them from discussing and sharing the information.   This has become known as the Medical Gag Rule. As was posted in FRACKS IN THE MEDICAL GAG, no such non-disclosure agreement exists.

Assume for a moment there is such a document, based on what has been learned so far in the Kiskadden case, even the drillers do not know what they are using, so any information which may be provided to a medical professional would be incomplete or inaccurate, or useless.

People seeking help or information related to health and drilling related concerns from the Pennsylvania Department of Health have found their inquiries were shuffled into a blackhole.

After more that 10 years of drilling, reports of water contamination, health complaints, and other related issues, Pennsylvania still has not even started a drilling and health study.

Pennsylvania drillers and elected officials often state that Pennsylvania has the “strictest set of regulations” in the nation.   In light of what is being revealed in the Kiskadden case, we need to ask are those regulation strict enough, and are they being strictly enforced?

It’s no wonder Pennsylvania is considered the Best WORST example of how to drill.

© 2015 by Dory Hippauf

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