Federal Agencies Probe Range Resources' Yeager Marcellus Shale
Gas Drilling Site
11 June 2012
By Don Hopey
Federal health and environmental agencies are investigating
whether Range Resources Inc.'s Yeager Marcellus Shale gas drilling
site in Washington County caused toxic air and groundwater
pollution that damaged the health of nearby residents.
The Atlanta-based Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
said this week it has been working with the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency since March 2011 to assess health problems
reported by residents living in a valley below Range's wastewater
pond and a drill cuttings pit at the Amwell Township site.
Three of those families filed a personal injury lawsuit in
Washington County Common Pleas Court last month alleging that
their health was damaged and their risk of cancer increased due to
exposure to toxic leaks, spills and air pollutants from Range's
operations. Range has denied the charges.
Three plaintiffs, Stacey Haney and her children, moved out of
their home on McAdams Road, about 1,500 feet from the Yeager
impoundment. The other plaintiffs are Beth, John and Ashley
Voyles, and Loren Kiskadden and his mother, Grace Kiskadden, who
live in separate homes near the impoundment.
Federal agencies have legal authority to step in to supplement
state regulation and enforcement.
The toxic substances registry, part of the U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services, said its focus has been in "evaluating
whether the health effects and symptoms being reported at this
(Yeager) site could be related to any environmental exposures."
The agency stated it has had discussions with the EPA and area
residents, made two site visits and "facilitated medical
consultations" for some residents, but as yet has produced "no
formal conclusions." Its investigation is ongoing and it is
seeking additional air quality monitoring and evaluation in the
The EPA confirmed that the Yeager drill site is one of three sites
in Pennsylvania and seven nationwide that are part of a
Congressionally mandated $1.9 million study assessing the impacts
of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources. That study
will be finished in 2014.
Separate from the study's work, the EPA sampled an intermittent
stream near Range's 3 million gallon fracking wastewater
impoundment in 2011, and reviewed private well water test data,
but took no action. In March of this year, the EPA asked residents
for permission to conduct a second round of water quality tests.
Those tests detected nitrate levels in concentrations more than
twice as high as allowed by federal drinking water standards in
the Voyles' well water, and the EPA told the family about the
problem in April.
Small children can be sickened by drinking water with nitrate
levels that high and infants drinking water or formula with high
nitrate levels can die from "blue baby syndrome."
Nitrates in groundwater come from runoff from fertilizer use,
leaking septic systems and erosion of natural deposits, according
to the EPA. Several studies show they can also be found in
flowback water from shale gas fracking.
According to a laboratory analysis done for Range, nitrates were
present in measurable quantities in the flowback fluids tested in
the Yeager impoundment in November 2010.
EPA and toxic substances registry spokesmen refused to comment on
the source of the nitrates found in groundwater on the Voyles
Matt Pitzarella, a Range spokesman, issued a statement saying the
federal and state agencies are properly responding to citizen
concerns, but the company believes any new tests will confirm
previous test results that show no health impacts associated with
"Hopefully these fact-based reports will provide the residents
with greater peace of mind," Mr. Pitzarella wrote. "There may very
well be some red flags with air or water, which is not uncommon in
Western Pennsylvania, but that doesn't mean it has anything to do
with responsible gas development."
Kevin Sunday, a DEP spokesman, said the federal investigations are
separate from DEP's reviews of water contamination complaints,
which "have not found any impacts attributable to oil and gas
development" in private water wells at homes owned by the Voyles
The plaintiffs allege that in September 2011 Range provided
incomplete drinking water test results to the DEP that omitted
findings showing a high concentration of nitrate -- which can
cause cancer -- plus fracking fluid, flowback water, uranium and
silicon. Today, both the Voyles and Haney properties are receiving
replacement water supplied by Range.
Don Hopey: email@example.com, 412-263-1983.