About 75 people picketed in front of Rex Energy’s offices in downtown Butler, PA yesterday afternoon. They were protesting the decision by the PA Department of Environmental Protection that allows Rex Energy to stop water deliveries to 11 families in Connoquenessing Township community (30 miles north of Pittsburgh).
The families claim that nearby Marcellus Shale drilling by Rex contaminated their water wells. Rex has been providing water to the families for the past year while the DEP conducted an investigation. The results of the investigation show that Rex’s drilling has not caused any water issues for those families.
The chanting and sign-waving demonstrators, who brought enough jugs of water for the Woodlands residents to fill a pickup truck to overflowing, blamed Rex Energy’s Marcellus Shale gas drilling operations near that community for contaminating the water wells.
The company has provided the families with 800-gallon plastic tanks, commonly called "water buffalos," and filled them regularly for a year but drained and removed the last of them Thursday, citing a series of test results that fail to establish a link between the drilling and the water contamination.
"A battery of tests have been performed by state-certified laboratories and environmental experts," said Derek Smith, a Rex spokesman, in an email.
"The laboratory results all unequivocally determine that natural gas development has not impacted water quality in the area."
The DEP tested the water wells in response to complaints by Woodlands residents that began in February 2011, but couldn’t link contaminants in the water to the Rex Energy gas well drilling, said DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday.
"Our investigation included sampling conducted by the department both before and after hydraulic fracturing," Mr. Sunday said in an email response to questions. "Pre-drilling surveys also informed our investigation, which considered any events that took place related to Rex’s drilling activity. We have been more than thorough in our investigation."
But Diane Sipe, an organizer with Marcellus Outreach Butler, a grassroots environmental group, said the water tests, done by the state Department of Environmental Protection and Rex Energy found widely varying levels of contamination and should be redone.
"The DEP found some toluene the first time it tested one of the water wells, then came back to retest that well and didn’t screen for toluene," Ms. Sipe said. "We don’t trust them."*
MDN will keep an eye on this developing story.
*Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Mar 2, 2012) – Butler County residents protest after state tests of their wells absolve driller