The Eakins told the state environmental agency about their bad water nearly seven years ago and hoped for a quick resolution. Like thousands of others who live in the natural gas-rich Marcellus Shale, however, they learned their hopes were misplaced.
Since 2007, at least 2,800 water-related complaints have been investigated by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Oil and Gas Program.
While regulators try to catch up to natural gas exploration, some residents of the state have gone months, even years, without access to clean water at their homes.
“What I tell people is, don’t think that there’s somebody up there [in Harrisburg] watching out for you, because they’re not,” said David Brown, an environmental health scientist at the nonprofit Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project. “That’s a pretty sobering message, and it’s not one I would think I would give in many states but Pennsylvania.” (The project has received funding from The Heinz Endowments, as has the Center for Public Integrity).
In an analysis of more than 200 complaints, Public Herald identified the many ways cases were being closed prematurely or minimized. In some, the DEP claimed pre-drill tests proved that complainants’ water had been bad all along. (In fact, these tests had been done after drilling started.) In others, it diverted complaints from the Office of Oil and Gas Management to divisions within the agency such as the Environmental Cleanup Program. This kept the DEP from classifying the cases as energy-related.
Sitting in her living room in Rea, she cried remembering how she felt when the doctors told her she could go home. “Am I going to be going home and bathing in that water again?” she asked them. “I said, ‘I don’t want to go home.’ ”