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Families file suits against drillers

Brian Bowling
| Saturday, Aug. 13, 2011

Two Washington County families claim in separate lawsuits that a Denver gas drilling company contaminated their wells and property while conducting hydraulic fracturing operations at a nearby Marcellus shale site.

Paul and Yvonne Becka and David and Tara Dillon live near a well site in West Pike Run. They claim that Antero Resources Appalachian Corp. polluted their wells and the creek that gives the township its name by injecting fracking fluids into the well and by spilling diesel fuel and motor oil at the site. They claim the company also has dumped contaminated mud into ditches near their wells.

A company spokesman couldn't be reached for comment on Friday.

It wasn't clear from the lawsuits, filed originally in state court, whether the families claim that injection of fluids in the Marcellus shale, which is typically about a mile underground, was a source of contamination or whether the contaminants are from the surface operation. The lawsuits were transferred to federal court on Thursday.

Anne John, the Uniontown attorney representing the families, declined comment.

Tom Murphy, co-director of the Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research, said that state and federal environmental agencies don't have any evidence that injections from fracking operations are leaching chemicals into the surrounding groundwater.

"We're not seeing that problem, but what we are seeing is surface spillage," he said.

An increasing number of oil and gas companies are creating containment berms around their drilling sites to contain the fluids, he said.

"There's a strong trend in that direction, and it's a good move," he said.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has been citing companies for surface spills, and spills have decreased as companies increasingly use the bermed areas, he said.

The DEP cited Antero in April 2010 for using a structurally unsound impoundment at the West Pike Run site, polluting the state's waters and failing to notify the DEP.

DEP spokeswoman Lisa Kasianowitz declined comment yesterday on the lawsuit. She said the company remediated the spill by digging up the contaminated soil, but the DEP has not determined whether the wells were contaminated.

The two lawsuits list 11 state citations against the company in April and May of 2010 for violations of the state's oil and gas, stormwater management and clean streams laws.

The two families are seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages that would include paying for the monitoring of their well water, soil testing and medical testing.

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