Some of the earliest Marcellus Shale gas wells were drilled on
properties surrounding Darrell Smitsky’s home near Hickory,
Pennsylvania in 2006 and 2007. Five years later, there are 17
Marcellus wells in the one-square-mile area surrounding Darrell’s
home in Mount Pleasant Township.
His family has occupied their
rural home for more than four decades, and prior to Marcellus
drilling, their well water was famous for its excellent quality and
taste. Not long after drilling began, the Smitsky’s water started
looking and tasting funny, so they quit drinking it. Strange things
began to happen around anything associated with water on their
Well water with
sediment in the bottom of the jar
Well water after
Darrell had eight healthy goats
as Marcellus drilling got underway around him, but over a period of
several months, five of the goats died, dropping off one by one.
Darrell recalls that tragic time this way, “It was like their back
legs became paralyzed, and I would have to carry them into the barn.
I tried various supplements and other things, but nothing worked.”
The fish in a small backyard
pond began exhibiting strange symptoms as well, with their scales
breaking down and becoming translucent, prior to death. Water plants
they purchased from a local pond store turned brown and died. It
finally became obvious that their well water and surface water were
causing these impacts. Even though Darrell’s family began buying
bottled water for drinking and cooking, they continue to shower in
the well water. The Smitsky’s have developed brown rashes on the
front of their lower legs, identical to other shale victims who live
five miles away in Rea, Pa.
It was originally believed that
no gas wells were drilled within a distance of 1,000 feet, but
Darrell later learned that Range Resources had erred big time, and
that his water well was within 1,000 feet of a Marcellus well they
drilled on a farm across the road. Since this "less than 1,000 feet"
proximity was never revealed prior to these incidents, Darrell's
water well never received the required baseline testing before and
after drilling. Why is this important? Because drilling is presumed
to have caused water well contamination if it occurs within 1,000
feet of drilling, within 6 months.
Darrell’s well water tests
indicated serious problems that also pointed directly to drilling
contamination, especially when compared to other area water well
tests close to drilling. Acrylonitrile appeared at an alarming level
in Darrell’s water test, being 130-times higher than the permitted
level in a Pennsylvania stream.
Darrell Smitsky's well water
|Pennsylvania DEP Lab
Other contaminants showed up in
the Smitsky’s well water tests done by the DEP. But keep in mind,
the Pennsylvania DEP only tests for 14 things. Things like volatile
organic compounds (VOC’s) and acrylonitrile are not included in
their tests, so the DEP test results often give an incomplete
picture of the true contamination levels from Marcellus drilling.
home by the Pa. DEP on
|Pa. DEP methane
monitor next to an abandoned c.1901 well near Emil
Alexander's, just up the road from Darrell
Darrell and his
Toilet tank after toilet being flushed,
note black stain on side of tank
During the fracking of one of
the Alexander's (GPS 40.2833 -80.310137) Marcellus wells near Darrell’s house, Emil Alexander
reported foam coming up out of the ground in his field. Around the
same time, an abandoned well from the early 1900’s, located just up
the valley from Darrell and his neighbor, started spewing fluids.
Personal accounts indicate that the new Marcellus well wouldn't frack, even after repeated attempts by Range Resources. The old well
nearby had never been properly plugged, just like tens of thousands
of other Pennsylvania wells drilled in the past. Photos below show this
old well getting plugged during the summer of 2011. DEP methane
monitors remained in the area surrounding the old well.
Another neighbor comments:
the same time of the Alexander 1900 well bubbling gas
and water up and the foam, H2S and other gasses erupting
from his field, my water well was influenced as well. We
had cloudiness in our well for over two weeks. I put
the water in a glass and the cloudiness stayed in
suspension for greater than 24 hours, then I threw it
Pa. DEP was sniffing around at Alexanders and I had them
come up and sniff my well for gas. No gas thank God, but
Alexander's and everybody closer to the fracking site
had 18% to >90% methane in their wells I heard.
called Range (back then it was Great Lakes, or Great
Disasters as I had dubbed them) about contaminating my
well and the best I got was, "I'm sorry to hear about
your well...." This is what really set me off against
their lies. I'm an environmental scientist and I didn't
buy their stories from the beginning.
Plugging the 1901 well at the
Elm and McCarrell Road near Hickory, Pa