Water Everywhere, But Not a Drop to Drink

(Indulge me for a moment.  Any opinions expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WQED.)

Yesterday I wrote about orange water.  If you live in Pennsylvania you’ve seen creeks like this one.  If you haven’t, keep in mind this photo is not retouched.  The water is indeed bright orange.

Welcome to Blacklick Creek, the Stonycreek River, the upper reaches of Slippery Rock Creek and tributaries of the Conemaugh, the Casselman, the Youghiogheny and the Monongahela.

The list goes on and on.  Our water is damaged across the state.  It’s the legacy of coal.

During the coal rush Pennsylvania didn’t have strict mining laws and enforcement.  There were no rules about tailings and water and the coal companies never had to put up any money or pay a severance tax to clean up future problems.  They made a lot of money and coal was cheap because the long term cost was passed on to us.  A hundred years later we have water we can’t drink and creeks with no fish and none of the wildlife and birds that depend on them.

Pennsylvania has learned from this history, right?

Maybe.  Maybe not.

Our state is now in the midst of the Marcellus Shale gas rush that’s been going on a couple of years.  Before we knew this might hurt something, and before our laws could catch up, our water told the tale.

Marcellus Shale drilling is extremely water intensive, consuming 40 to 50 million gallons of water per well pad.  (Each well pad has 8 to 10 wells.)  The water is pumped from our creeks, rivers and lakes, lowering the water levels.  For example, a million gallons a day can be pulled from Cross Creek and Cross Creek Lake.

70% of the water is lost underground during high pressure hydraulic fracturing that mixes water, sand and over 200,000 gallons of toxic chemicals per well pad.  The rest returns to the surface extremely polluted, salty and more or less radioactive.

What happens then?  For those with water wells the drilling is a roll of the dice.  Many wells are OK but some become so dangerous you can’t even bathe in the water, let alone drink it.  People don’t find out until they get sick.

The rest of us are not exempt.  Right now there are no facilities that can remove the salts and radioactivity but municipal water treatment plants are allowed to accept the flowback water up to 1% of their output.  They dilute the flowback and we drink the results.

Tomorrow night on WQED you can learn more about Marcellus drilling’s effects on water when we rebroadcast “What’s in the Water? — An OnQ Special Series: Marcellus Shale Drilling,” hosted by Chris Moore.  Tune in on Wed, August 4 at 7:30pm or watch the segment online here.

Learn even more from the movie Gasland at a screening on Thursday, August 5 at 6:00pm, at Artists Image Resource (AIR), 518 Foreland Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.   Gasland is not on DVD yet but you can see the trailer online here and watch an interview with the movie maker, Josh Fox, on PBS Now.

It breaks my heart to see bad water.  My heart breaks even more when good water turns bad.

Thanks for listening.

(photo by Caitlin Mirra via Shutterstock)

p.s. There will be another screening of Gasland, Aug 27 at Frick Park.  For information see: http://www.marcellusprotest.org/aug27gasland

6 thoughts on “Water Everywhere, But Not a Drop to Drink

  1. I totally agree with you, Kate. It sickens me when I think of the habitat and water destruction due to the orange water. There is plenty of orange water around here in DuBois, PA that has no sign of life.

    Fracking is just so scary! 🙁

    A MUST WATCH for EVERYONE: Watching the video link that Kate posted above is a brief overview of what is involved with the fracking process etc. (interview with the movie maker, Josh Fox, on PBS Now.) Especially interesting is a demonstration at 6:30 in the video.

    A friend of mine is going through heartache and headache due to a proposed Marcellus shale well going in very close to her beautiful farm in a rural area not too far from DuBois, PA. That would be a nightmare! I feel terrible for her and her family.

    Any of us could be next! 🙁

  2. There is a rush to get leases signed and wells drilled before a severance tax can be levied or more regulations passed. Many of us support a moratorium on new drilling until the water and air quality issues can be addressed further. The EPA is conducting a very large study, mainly on the associated risks to water quality, but preliminary findings aren’t due for two and a half years.

    Many laws and regulations are currently being discussed and debated, and I’d like to see us wait to do more until we have more information and more safeguards in place.

  3. Thanks for the heads up Kate. I didn’t get to see Gasland when it was originally broadcast on HBO since I don’t get that and I missed the OnQ special.

    I wish they’d slipped the OnQ special into the slot on the second QED channel. Last month was all the Pittsburgh history stuff, but to fill out the time block, each week there was a different OnQ. This would have been a nice current events topic to slip in.

    It’s a shame to hear about Marianne’s friend’s farm. To think of the people that could affect with such a low density population like in those areas, and then to consider what could happen if drilling in Lawrenceville goes forward where there are so many more people. I hope it doesn’t come to something happening to people for people to realize the effects this has on all other critters, especially since we all need water.

  4. Thank you for bringing this matter to everyone’s attention. I have been listening to talk shows about the Marcellus shale drilling and you never get the complete facts. I do remember hearing about the Gasland movie being mentioned, and I will watch the OnQ special. It seems the companies are trying to force landowners to sign as soon as possible without telling them about the environmental consequences. So sad. Have we learned nothing from the Native Americans about respecting the earth. It’s all about the money, and no earth will be left for our children.

  5. 60 landowners in Lawrenceville alone have signed contracts allowing companies to extract gas from their properties. The uproar is huge but there currently isn’t any legislation preventing this from occuring in the City. There is nothing in the Law to protect any of us from whatever those landowners choose to do with their mineral rights or the companies who purchased them. For all I know, one of those property owners could be my immeidate neighbor, or two blocks away. No matter where – the River I so love will be poisoned.
    This is the legacy being left to my 5 year old and his generation.
    Why must the drive for energy come at the expense of our children’s future?
    What will it take for this to stop.
    I fear that orange streams are only the tip of the iceberg, in terms of what will be left for them and their children…if the Earth can even continue to feed them all by then. So upsetting.

  6. Just about all of the politicians are on board with this drilling… both of the PA governor candidates, our current governor, and it trickles down to our local government. They all want the same thing….. MONEY. They are getting it too. In the past 2 years almost $1,000,000 has been donated to candidate’s campaigns. The DEP also seems to be in bed with the Marcellus Shale Coalition led by Kathryn Z. Klaber. This means they are highly organized and we aren’t. If the citizens of this state care at all about our land, water, air and way-of-life it’s time to organize ourselves… start petitioning writing your state representatives, we need action not broken hearts. Thank you Kate! I nominate YOU to lead and organize us.

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