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Personal experiences from the Marcellus Shale

- Update -


By Don Hopey
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

November 2, 2012 - The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection produces incomplete lab reports and uses them to dismiss complaints that Marcellus Shale gas development operations have contaminated residential water supplies and made people sick, according to court documents. In response, state Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, Thursday called on state and federal agencies to investigate the DEP for "alleged misconduct and fraud" revealed by sworn depositions in a civil case currently in Washington County Common Pleas Court."This is beyond outrageous," Mr. White said. "Anyone who relied on the DEP for the truth about whether their water has been impacted by drilling activities has apparently been intentionally deprived of critical health and safety information by their own government."



The letter sent to Rep. White alerting him of these issues can be found at:

The deposition of TaruUpadhyay, technical director of PA DEP Laboratory can be found at:


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 property.

Darrell Smitsky's water well sample

Well water with sediment in the bottom of the jar

Well water after being shaken

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 test results
Pennsylvania DEP Lab 11-9-2009
Independent Lab 12-2-2009

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.

Methane monitoring near Darrell's home by the Pa. DEP on 9-25-10
Methane monitor near old abandoned well
Pa. DEP methane monitor next to an abandoned c.1901 well near Emil Alexander's, just up the road from Darrell

Darrell and his well water

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:

At 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 out.

The 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.

I 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.


c.1901 well being plugged

Plugging the 1901 well at the intersection of
Elm and McCarrell Road near Hickory, Pa


Ron Gulla's story

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