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Article published January 14, 2013
More Woodlands woes
Joseph P. McMurry Butler Township
In late 2010, Rex Energy commenced shale-gas drilling in the Woodlands area of Connoquenessing Township. By January 2011, at least a dozen households that previously had good, clean water suddenly found themselves with a host of water problems. In December 2011, Rex Energy announced that, according to testing done by the lab it hired, Environmental Service Laboratories, Inc., there was no way that its drilling operations had anything to do with water contamination complaints in the Woodlands. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection later backed up that finding. A February 2012 Associated Press article reported that initial post-drilling water quality tests in the Woodlands conducted by the DEP showed man-made industrial contaminants in the water — a multi-chemical mix that suggested either multiple sources of contamination or one industry that uses many chemicals. Shale-gas drilling is the only industry in the Woodlands area. It also noted that the chemicals found in those initial post-drilling results were not even tested for in the results that exonerated Rex Energy from blame. A follow-up AP report revealed that Rex Energy gas wells near the Woodlands neighborhood had developed casing problems during the drilling process. Neither Rex nor the DEP had disclosed this to Woodlands residents or the public. Faulty gas-well casings have been a common factor in water-contamination incidents linked to natural gas drilling. In November, both the AP and a Pittsburgh newspaper reported on court depositions by two former DEP employees-turned-whistleblowers, stating that the DEP routinely creates incomplete lab reports and uses them to dismiss complaints that Marcellus Shale gas development operations have contaminated water supplies. In the Pittsburgh newspaper’s file review of DEP water quality reports, it was found that those reports didn’t disclose all of the contaminants found in well water samples. The water complaints in those cases were then dismissed because the abbreviated reports did not support property owners’ complaints. One of the areas mentioned in the newspaper’s report on its file review was the Woodlands. In August-September 2012, Rex Energy commenced another round of drilling and fracking. By October, the number of Woodlands households reporting water problems had risen to at least 25. I have two questions to ask the citizens of Butler County: 1 Are the Woodlands water contamination problems related to shale-gas drilling in the area? 2. How do we go about getting honest accountability from county, state and local officials regarding this problem, and from our “sacred cash cow,” the shale-gas drilling industry?