Shale Drilling Contaminated Water, Families Say in Lawsuit

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
25 May 2012
By Don Hopey

Three Washington County families claim in a lawsuit that they face serious health problems, including a heightened risk of cancer, because Range Resources Inc. and two water testing laboratories conspired to alter test results and exposed them to hazardous chemicals.

The lawsuit, filed today in Washington County Common Pleas Court by attorneys John and Kendra Smith, is based on information contained in hundreds of pages of water test reports and documents, many subpoenaed from Range and other defendants.

In addition to Range, defendants named in the suit include 12 of the drilling company's subcontractors or suppliers, two individuals and the two water testing laboratories. A jury trial is requested.

The lawsuit claims Range knew its shale gas development operation on the Yeager farm property on McAdams Road in Amwell Township had contaminated the groundwater with chemicals from a leaking drilling waste pit and a 3-million-gallon hydraulic fracturing fluid flowback impoundment as early as November 2010.

But it told the plaintiffs that tests showed their well water was safe to drink, shower and bathe in, cook with, and provide to farm animals and pets.

Some of those animals were sickened, and some died.

"It's unfortunate that our clients had no choice but to file a civil action due to damage not only caused to their water and property, but to their health," said Mr. Smith in a written response for comment. "Had the DEP [state Department of Environmental Protection] protected these people, it may have been a different outcome."

Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella issued a statement saying the company cares about the quality of its operations and stands by testing that "has repeatedly proven that our operations have had no adverse impacts in this instance." His statement went on to attack the motives of the law firm representing the Amwell residents, and its tactics, which he characterized as "fearmongering."

"This isn't about health and safety; it's unfortunately about a lawyer hoping to pad his pockets, while frightening a lot of people along the way," he said.

Range, which has attempted to foster a friendly, folksy, corporate image in commercials and ads featuring regular rural residents and leaseholders, has maintained for years that its Yeager operations, which include one "fracked" well and two drilled wells, condensate tanks, the flowback fluids impoundment and drill cuttings pit, have not contaminated groundwater.

But full and complete test results subpoenaed from Range but never revealed to residents near the Yeager well site show that chemical contaminants similar to those found in the fracking flowback impoundment and the drill cuttings pit were also found in water samples from wells and springs.

Range showed or sent to the plaintiffs and the DEP less detailed test reports that showed many chemical contaminants were "not detected" in the water samples, but, the lawsuit says, omitted results for others, including several semi-volatile organic compounds that were present in the groundwater samples and the company's impoundment and pit, and that showed the water was contaminated.

Because they relied on the test reports, the plaintiffs -- Stacey, Harley and Paige Haney; Beth, John and Ashley Voyles; and Loren and Grace Kiskadden -- continued to drink, cook and bathe in the contaminated water.

And according to the suit, they developed a multitude of health problems, including nose bleeds, headaches and dizziness, skin rashes, stomachaches, ear infections, nausea, numbness in extremities, loss of sense of smell and bone pain. Because of their prolonged exposure to a number of cancer-causing chemicals in the air and water, they also have an increased risk of developing cancers, they contend.

In addition to Range, defendants include Gateway Engineers Inc. and Gateway engineer Scott Rusmisel; Carla Suszkowski of Range Resources; New Dominion Construction Inc.; Terrafix Environmental Technology Inc.; Skaps Industries Inc.; Engineered Synthetic Products Inc.; Red Oak Water Transfer NE, LLC; Microbac Laboratories Inc.; Multi-Chem Group, LLC; Universal Well Services Inc.; Halliburton Energy Services Inc.; Saxon Drilling, L.P.; Highland Environmental, LLC; EAP Industries Inc.; and Test America Inc.

Don Hopey: or 412-263-1983.