Water, Water Everywhere But Every Droplet Stinks: Hickory PA and the Struggle for Safe Water

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Hard times have hit Southwestern Pennsylvania- Jobs are scarce, money is tight and the water isn't fit to drink. Residents of Hickory Pennsylvania know these things all too well.Stephanie Hollowich was featured on CBS Evening News after she captured video of a flaming well on her property. In her interview she nearly pleads "We can't live like this. It's so stressful every single day." And Stephanie's not alone, many of her neighbors feel the same way.

Hickory is just next door to Canonsburg Pennsylvania where the Marcellus Shale Coalition, Consol Energy, CNX Gas Corporation and Chesapeake energy have offices. Hickory residents say that these companies have established numerous Marcellus Shale gas wells on their land. These wells have poisoned their well water, streams and ponds. The water is so poisoned in fact that homeowners cannot shower, or cook in their own homes. Residents were told by the gas companies, as well as the DEP that Marcellus Shale drilling is safe. Ron Gulla of Hickory tells a familiar tale "...now [the lease signees] beat themselves up, just like I have. But I was lied to about the lease, too. They totally misrepresented the lease." Soon after drilling started residents began noticing that the water was making them ill and causing rashes. Hickory residents report foul odors from nearby wells, odors that also came through their taps. Cattle farmers have seen still born calfs in unprecedented numbers, and fishermen have waded through hundreds of poisoned fish, belly up in their ponds. Now, Ron and others like him are speaking out against Marcellus Shale drilling, and hopes to save others from falling victim to the gas industry. The folks from Hickory PA want to let the world know that gas wells are not our friend.

But Hickory residents aren't alone. The Marcellus Shale is a large rock formation spanning from New York state to Tennessee. This formation holds vast quantities of natural gas, but was once prohibitively expensive to process. The drilling process is called Hydrofracking- “fracking” for short. This process of drilling pressurizes flimsy cement-lined wells to fracture the Marcellus Shale, then extracts the gas using lubricants, solvents, proprietary and secret chemicals, as well as other known carcinogens. The DEP has been slow to track down a complete list of the chemicals in fracking fluid. Some of the chemicals are considered "proprietary"- meaning that their ingredients are secret from everyone, including the DEP. 70% of the fracking fluid put down these wells do not return above ground after the well has been fracked. But what does come back is equally troubling; Thousands of tons of radioactive waste laden with heavy metals and chemicals. As there is no way to responsibly process this waste, it is then dumped into plastic lined pits that offer virtually no protection to the groundwater or the people. With the advent of horizontal drilling, and increased demand for natural gas, companies have now been turning to the Marcellus Shale as a profitable source of fossil fuels.

Recently, throughout Pennsylvania and New York state, companies have been offering landowners leases to drill on their land. These leases are tempting to folks hard up for cash- and given hard economic times, landowners have found themselves ready to sign. But the citizens of Hickory, PA and other towns where the drilling has already begun, now wish they'd never signed. Leases are being signed all over Pennsylvania- and while these wells may be confined to small pieces of land, the toxic effects of Marcellus Shale drilling can span hundreds of miles.

Despite this danger, the drilling continues. Despite the risks, the number of fracking wells are on the rise. Citizens are suddenly finding themselves at town meetings and outside of conferences fighting to save their land, and access to safe water.

Those of us in Pennsylvania should take seriously the warnings from Hickory PA. We all need safe water to survive, and we're all at risk so long as Marcellus Shale drilling is allowed to continue anywhere. So tune in, join in, and keep your ear to the ground. There's plenty you can do to help stop the drilling of the Marcellus Shale.