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Article published September 23, 2013
Jason Bell Evans City
On Sept. 9, a subsidiary of Exxon Mobile, XTO Energy approached the Slippery Rock School District with an offer to lease Moraine Elementary School property for gas extraction. As a Slippery Rock School District alumnus, an educator with 15 years’ experience in the classroom and a father of two, I urge the school board to flatly reject XTO’s proposal. Accepting would unnecessarily expose the students to an assortment of toxic chemicals and expose the district to potentially costly financial liability. A few weeks ago, XTO acted irresponsibly when it flared at a well pad just 900 feet from Summit Elementary without first warning the school or the district. There were children playing outside at the time. Researchers have measured more than 60 air pollutants downwind of natural gas flares including many volatile organic compounds and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Deadly hydrogen-sulfide and radioactive radon-226 have also been shown to exist in shale-gas. According to the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, toxins can travel more than 1,080 feet from the wellhead. But it isn’t just what’s in the air that parents need to worry about. Among the 230 violations XTO has amassed in Pennsylvania were 43 for instances of improperly cemented or failed casings. Some resulted in underground leaking or methane migration. The Department of Environmental Protection’s web site has a long list of XTO violations relating to the improper handling of toxic waste water on the surface. Violations stretch from the improper construction and use of frack pits to the illegal dumping of waste into fields and waterways. Most notability, XTO is headed to court for the illegal discharge of approximately 57,000 gallons of toxic waste water in Lycoming County. These abuses have the potential to contaminate the underground aquifer used by the school and residents. If you think it can’t happen here, keep in mind XTO has 12 violations in Butler County, seven occurring in 2013. The violations include the mishandling of toxic waste in Forward and Summit townships. Exactly how often will XTO test the water? Will they test every day? How, exactly, will XTO replace the water supply for 450 students and staff? How long will that take? What will the school do with the students in the meantime? Will XTO inform the school before flaring and will they pay for air quality testing at the school? Will XTO pay to train the faculty and staff to recognize the symptoms of exposure to airborne toxins in children, including children with asthma, in order to reduce the liability to the school? Has the school board checked with their insurance carrier to see how an oil and gas lease will affect liability coverage? We have enough to worry about regarding our schools. Exposing our children to dangerous levels of toxic chemicals need not be one of them.