Susquehanna County sits just across the NY state line and, according to StateImpact Pennsylvania, is host to 858 active wells with a combined history of 567 violations. It’s also the home of Dimock, PA, made famous by the movie Gasland and its residents’ struggles with contaminated water.
Our tour focused on areas near Montrose, PA, just north of Dimock. We visited several sites in different stages of drilling and production, as well as a natural gas compressor station, and heard stories of residents’ concerns about their water supply. We spoke with one homeowner whose water was so contaminated her family was unable to use it. Instead, the gas company provides fresh water to the family and their well is capped with a methane vent to prevent concentration of the gas in dangerous levels near the wellhead. After confirming that the water is contaminated with hazardous levels of methane and barium, along with other compounds, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced the conclusion of a 16-month investigation, which it says did not indicate that the contamination was caused by nearby fracking. Even more concerning, DEP is reportedly refusing to release its report with details.
Beyond concerns about water contamination, increases in large truck traffic in the area were evident, leading to worries about safety, air pollution, and noise. During a brief stop at one active site, we saw nearly two dozen trucks hauling water and waste on a dirt road, generating immense amounts of dust. The significant truck traffic and road impacts that it causes are not surprising, as fracking typically requires 2 to 4 million gallons of water per well. Dust from unpaved roads and worksites can lead to particulate matter pollution, which has been linked to health problems such as aggravation of heart and lung disease, including premature death in people with these diseases, and decreased respiratory function. Other air pollutants from fracking sites also have the potential to cause significant harm to public health, with risks stemming from emissions of volatile organic compounds, which interact with nitrogen oxides to form ground-level ozone, and hazardous air pollutants such as benzene, a known carcinogen.
All of this once again highlights the need for New York to take the time to fully evaluate and understand the public health impacts of fracking before deciding whether to allow this practice in New York State. The NY State Assembly passed a moratorium March 6. Join us May 22 to urge the Senate to do the same and put the health and safety of New Yorkers first.