A Pennsylvania fracking settlement answers a few questions

Men with Cabot Oil and Gas work on a natural gas valve at a hydraulic fracturing site on January 18, 2012 in South Montrose, Pa.

The Pittsburgh area is buzzing today about a high-profile environmental pollution case linked to fracking. A family and a drilling  company reached a settlement in private. But a few lawsuits later, the details of the case just became public.

In the fracking wars, the secret settlement between driller Range Resources and the Hallowich family outside Pittsburgh is a defining battle.

Now that the case is public, many are underwhelmed.

The company paid the family $750,000, admitting no fault. The family argued a well or wastewater pit poisoned their water, but took the deal and moved out.

Bob Donnan is a friend of the Hallowich family. "You do wat you have to do for your family, if you have to sign a gag order or you take a number that puts you into a different house, you do it."

Papers do indicate the Hallowich's drinking water contained a chemical linked to cancer - acrilonitrile - 30 times the safe level. Acrilonitrile has been used in fracking.

 "It is a carcinogen," says environmental chemist Wilma Subra, "a known human cancer-causing agent that can cause things like lung cancer. The animal studies indicate that acrilonitrile causes brain and stomach cancer."

Still, defendant Range Resources says the documents show fracking is safe.

And while the plaintiffs also slam regulators for being asleep, Pennsylvania's environment secretary Michael Krancer says the rules are enforced.

"It definitely works well" Krancer sys. "And if you are told that by folks, ask them to show you specifics, because if you come into my department, which I invite you to do, I will do that for you."

The drama isn't over. Key settlement documents are missing from the file, stoking rumors of funny business.

And resident Bob Donnan argues misdeeds continue. He says the suspicious wastewater pit by the Hallowiches was mysteriously emptied, evidence destroyed.

"Along that pipeline, one of the valves was opened up. And the water was allowed to dump on the ground. That was on the Agape Bible camp."

Which leaves everywhere where they started. Critics suspicious. And industry declaring itself clean.

 

 

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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