West Virginia Water Woes Blamed on Fracking

People living in Wetzel County, West Virginia say their water is being ruined by hydraulic fracturing, a form of natural gas drilling used to tap the Marcellus shale. Some people living in Wetzel County say their health has declined since the fall of 2008, after natural gas drillers started fracking nearby.

According to Scripps News Service, Wetzel County, located in the West Virginia panhandle, is home to 1,126 active wells, many of them frack wells drilled against the wishes of local residents. Water problems were first noticed by Bonnie Hall, who said her horses began refusing their drinking water in November 2008. That water, drawn from a 300-foot well, smells like an industrial-strength cleaning solvent, Scripps News Service said. Hall’s been forced to ship water in ever since.

Neighbors of Hall also claim they are suffering because of fracking. After hearing about Hall’s horses, they became convinced that natural gas drilling was to blame. Testing done on Hall’s well conducted from April 2009 to May of 2010 showed toxic chemicals including acrylonitrile, benzene, and styrene, and that Hall’s water worsened four months after the second well was fracked, in October 2009. Unfortunately, the test weren’t done under strict conditions, so they won’t be admissible in court, Scripps said.

Chesapeake Energy, a natural gas company based in Oklahoma City which drilled three wells near Hall’s property, denies responsibility for the contamination, claiming it doesn’t use many of the chemicals found in Hall’s water. Chesapeake also points out that Hall first complained of bad water before the company began the fracking stage of its three wells. State-commissioned testing concluded the contamination was from leaked gasoline — not fracking fluids — even though Hall said there are no gasoline tanks near her property, according to Scripps.

Unlike her neighbors, Hall has suffered no health problems from the tainted well, Scripps said. She uses a shallower well for drinking water, which has been unaffected. But Hall told Scripps that because of her water problems, she lost the value of her house, and she fears she may have to give up her livestock.

Help filing claims and other legal assistance for victims of water contamination due to fracking is available at the Water Contamination Center.

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