A family in Collins, New York suspects that a gas drilling operation that utilizes hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is making them sick. According to BuffaloNews.com, Natalie and Geno Brant say their family has suffered a variety of symptoms, including headaches, muscle pain and fatigue, for the past two years. Recently, they discovered that methane gas has contaminated their well water, and they think fracking operations undertaken by US Energy are to blame.
Hydraulic fracturing involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface. The chemicals that make up that fracking fluid are cause for concern. They may include, among other things, barium, strontium, benzene, glycol-ethers, toluene, 2-(2-methoxyethoxy) ethanol, and nonylphenols. All have been linked to health disorders when human exposure is too high. Thanks to a move by Congress in 2005, fracking is exempt from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. As a result, frackers donâ€™t have to disclose the chemicals that make up there fracking fluids.
In New York, fracking has been particularly controversial. The stateâ€™s Marcellus shale region includes the entire Catskills watershed that provides New York City with all of its drinking water. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation has had gas drilling permit approvals on hold since 2008 while it conducts an environmental review of fracking.
In August, the New York State Senate approved a measure that would temporarily ban horizontally-drilled hydraulic fracturing wells until May 2011. But the measure has yet to become law, and is still being debated in the State Assembly.
According to BuffaloNews.com, the Brant’s landlord gave US Energy permission to drill on the property where they live, and two wells now occupy the property. In addition to the Brant family, two other families live on the same land. Both of those families say they began experiencing the same types of health problems the Brants are complaining of shortly after drilling began two years ago.
All share the same water well. The Brants told BuffaloNews.com that in addition to their symptoms, since drilling began the water comes out cloudy, with a yellowish or grayish tint. Flecks of sediment settle to the bottom when the water sits in a glass or bowl for an extended period of time.
The Brant family told BuffaloNews.com that they decided to look into fracking as a possible cause of their ailments after seeing the HBO documentary “Gasland.” After watching the documentary, they discovered their tap water was flammable – an indication of methane contamination. They have since stopped drinking their water, but still use it for bathing, and washing dishes and clothes.
The Brants have been complaining to US Energy since July, but they say the drilling firm has offered little help. The company and New York regulators maintain the methane is from a septic system nearby, not drilling operations. The Brants have also been told that methane is often found naturally in water wells in their part of the state.
After the Brants contacted a local TV station, US Energy put them and another family up in a hotel while it tried to find out what was causing the problems. It hired a contractor to test their well water and installed a system that aerates the water, allowing methane to escape, BuffaloNews.com said.
But the Brants and their neighbors say the company hasn’t gone far enough, and theyâ€™re still having problems. They plan to file suit against US Energy, and allege that the company isn’t conducting its drilling safely or properly disposing of the waste water left over from the fracking process.