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PA shale drilling clouds local tap water

A natural gas compressor station in Dimock, PA

TEXT OF STORY

Bill Radke: A natural gas boom is underway in Pennsylvania, fueled by new technologies that involve drilling into shale deep underground. But environmentalists say thousands of new gas wells could pose serious threats to drinking water. Reporter Joel Rose has that.


Joel Rose: The northern Pennsylvania town of Dimock looks like a pristine mountain hamlet -- until you see the tap water.

Julie Sautner: Looks like pond water, right? Wouldn't you want that coming through your house? Take a shower in it, wash your clothes in it? Yup.

Julie Sautner holds up a jar full of cloudy, gray water. Julie and her husband, Craig, say they used to get crystal-clear water from their well. That was before the drilling started. Now, there are more than 60 natural gas wells here.

Joel Rose: Where's the closest one?

Craig Sautner: Nine hundred and seventy-six feet up across the road and up on top of the hill.

Julie Sautner: Our house has shook. Has literally shook.

Craig Sautner: Yeah. I mean, I've stood on the deck already and had the deck just shake from whatever they're doing underground.

Last fall, the Sautners and a dozen neighbors sued Cabot Oil and Gas. Cabot declined to comment. Like much of Pennsylvania, Dimock rests on the richest natural gas deposit in the country. These days, energy companies can extract gas trapped in shale more than a mile down.

But environmentalists like Myron Arnowitt at Clean Water Action say sloppy work can contaminate aquifers near the surface.

Myron Arnowitt: There are not enough inspectors in Pennsylvania to really watchdog what's happening with this sort of rush to drill natural gas here.

Last year, Pennsylvania gave out nearly 2,000 new drilling permits, while New York state put drilling on hold to weigh the pros and cons. The Pennsylvania governor is pushing a new tax on gas drilling to help close the state's $500 million budget deficit.

John Hanger, Pennsylvania's Secretary of Environmental Protection, says that's an economic benefit:

John Hanger: It would be a mistake to just say no or time out. We can in fact produce that gas and protect the water, and are going to do that.

Hanger says he's hiring more inspectors and making sure gas companies protect aquifers when they drill. But the Sautners in Dimock say none of that will help them sell a house with gray water.

I'm Joel Rose for Marketplace.

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