Lenox families sue Southwestern Energy

BY LAURA LEGERE

Times-Shamrock Writer

Thirteen families in Lenox Twp. filed suit against gas driller Southwestern Energy Production Co. on Tuesday, Sept. 14, in Susquehanna County Court, alleging the company contaminated their water, made them ill and damaged their property while drilling in the Marcellus Shale nearby.

The families, who all live or regularly drank water at homes within 2,000 feet of the Price 1 Southwestern well along Route 92, say spills and discharges of drilling waste, as well as improper casing of the gas well, caused barium, manganese and strontium as well as other hazardous chemicals to contaminate their water.

“There’s no question they’re from fracking fluids,” the families’ attorney Peter Cambs said, referring to the water, sand and chemical mixture drillers inject underground to fracture the shale, as well as the salt- and metals-laden wastewater that returns to the surface.

The Price well was drilled in April 2008. Southwestern was cited by the state Department of Environmental Protection for four violations at the well that year, including for a faulty waste pit, not properly posting permit information on the well and two instances of erosion problems, according to DEP records.

DEP water test results for two of the families’ wells, which were provided by one of their attorneys, show elevated levels of manganese, barium and strontium in 2008.

A cover letter from a DEP water quality specialist on one of the tests indicates that although he found elevated manganese, the department could not determine that the gas exploration activity “contributed to the degradation of your water supply.”

Test results from a third drinking water well performed by an independent lab in 2010 showed elevated levels of barium, strontium, iron and manganese.

The report by Appalachia Hydrogeologic and Environmental Consulting noted that the “barium and strontium concentrations are uncharacteristically high,” with a barium concentration about 2.7 times the state limit for drinking water.

“Appalachia recommends that water from the potable well NOT be used as drinking water source until the barium and strontium levels are remedied,” the report found.

The families’ legal complaint alleges that an infant in one of the families has developed neurological symptoms consistent with toxic exposure to heavy metals.

In their lawsuit, the families ask for an injunction barring Southwestern from further drilling and gas production activities in the area of the Price well, as well as compensatory damages, punitive damages and the cost of future health monitoring.

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