Everyday People, Harmed Everyday

Pennsylvania Stands Witness To The Adverse Impacts of Shale Gas Drilling

More than 1,208 individuals have gone on record (to date) on The List of The Harmed. The list is meticulously compiled by Jenny Lisak of The Pennsylvania Alliance for Clean Water and Air. It’s got to be a full time job, as the number of people harmed easily keeps apace with drilling.

Even a list as long as this can’t do justice to the people whose lives have been ruined along with their land, air and water.

Ready or not, Americans have to make a choice. They can believe the slick TV ads, buying into the false promise of safe shale gas, or they can try to understand what impacts large-scale, industrial hydrofracking really brings to our ecology, landscapes and the communities who inhabit them. They can listen to the experiences of people living in the new gaslands of Pennsylvania, and not just the stories that grab headlines, but the common, garden variety suffering wrought by a single extreme extraction industry.

Postcards From The Sacrifice Zone 

Rebecca Roter and Frank Finan listen. They listen to their neighbors and friends, and they speak out. They relay the stories they hear, and they encourage others to share their experiences, too.

Document Your Shale Related Health Complaint with the PA Dept of Health is an open facebook event inviting people to:

Stand witness, encourage friends and family with skin rashes, upper respiratory problems, etc that appear shale related to DOCUMENT your experiences in your own voice, let a volunteer health advocate make sure the Dept of Health DOES ITS job and takes your shale related health complaint. Help save the next generation, so the claim cannot be made there are no health impacts in shale corridors. Impacted individuals can call Volunteer Health Care Advocate Celeen Miller 215-680-1452, 215-249-3619, 800-200-2229 to report complaints. Call Dr McKenzie, 215-662-2354, University of Pennsylvania, Occupational Medicine, for treatment.

Max Chilson, As Told By Frank Finan:  

I would like to share with you the story of an American, a Pennsylvanian, and a retired taxpaying senior citizen who lost his source of drinking water two and a half years ago while gas wells were drilled close to his home.

Max Chilson is 80 years old and a lifelong resident of French Azilum in Bradford County, Pennsylvania. He raised his family in the very home he grew up in and he still lives in this home today.

In May of 2011, Max’s well water turned black and he started getting rashes from showering in it. Chief Oil and Gas had recently installed two natural gas well pads 1,200 and 1,800 feet from his water well. Max had the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) test his well water at that point, and DEP reported back to him that, among other things, he had diesel in his water, sky high (coaliform) coliform, and elevated manganese which, in 2013, was noted as being the cause of his black water.

DEP told Max not to use his water for anything. Chief voluntarily supplied Mr. Chilson with 5 gallon water jugs for one and a half years while his water well was under investigation. Chilson heated water on his stove to bathe in because he was getting rashes from his well water. In November 2012, over one year since Max first reported his well contamination, DEP issued a determination letter stating Chief was not responsible for the contamination of Chilson’s well water.

Chief stopped delivering bottled water to Mr. Chilson because he, at that point, would not sign a settlement agreement releasing Chief for any responsibility for his well contamination; there was also a clause stating Chilson could not appeal DEP’s decision releasing Chief from responsibility for Chilson’s well contamination.

Max is currently on his own to find a source of water that is safe to drink and to shower in. 

He went back to showering in his well water, he is not getting rashes again, even though he knows it might not be safe. He has bad knees a bad back so it is hard for him to heat water on the stove to bath in, and he is having to buy bottled water or to rely on other’s to bring him clean drinking water. He started drinking water from a local spring but felt ill so he stopped.

DEP’s 2012 determination letter did not say his water was, or was not, safe to drink or bathe in, it just released Chief from contamination responsibility. In December, 2012, Max’s water turned even blacker while another Chief well was fracked 1,200 feet from his home.

Once again, Max Chilson reported his black water to Penn DEP. They retested and found that his water was still not safe to drink. Max contacted the Pennsylvania Deptartment of Health because he got sick during the fracking. The Department of Health told him to ask DEP to do air sampling during the flaring of the well by his house.

DEP did not test the air.

In January of 2013, the new Chief well was flared and Mr. Chilson got sick from the chemical fumes. He could taste the chemicals even while inside his home and did not go outside. He got terrible headaches and a chronic sinus infection.

He still has no replacement water.

Mr. Chilson wanted to come today but is doing physical therapy for his back and knees. I asked him what he would say to all of you about his experience with PA DEP. He said: DEP does not help people anymore, they won’t tell us how many wells have been impacted by shale gas extraction, they don’t tell neighbors about each other’s impacted wells. He thinks PA DEP is crooked, not for the people, but for the gas companies.


Pat Volitis, As told by Rebecca Roter:

Pat VoIitis is a retired, semi-disabled senior citizen living on top of a remote mountain in Galeton, Potter County, Pennsylvania. He has been living with contaminated water for over 3 years now.

In November, 2009, Ultra installed a natural gas well pad 1,250 feet from Pat Volitis’s home. In December 2009, Pat had strange tingling on his scalp and intermittent blurry vision and soon after he started vomiting, felt very weak, had GI symptoms. He went to his doctor who could not tell him why he was ill, but did tell him his spleen was enlarged.

It never occurred to Pat to consider his drinking water might have been the reason for his emerging health issues. Ultra called Pat in January 2010 asking to meet with him as they wanted to put an access road to the well pad through his property. Pat told them he was too sick to meet with them. Ultra sent him a basket of fruit, and called periodically to ask what was wrong with him and how he was feeling.

In March, 2010, Pat noticed a strange chemical petrol smell to his water while doing dishes with hot water. He called Ultra to let them know his water smelled like chemicals, and he told them he was still sick and that he wanted his water tested. Ultra had Bailey Labs sample his well water and 3 weeks later Pat found out from Bailey Labs he had xylene, benzene, tertbutyl alcohol and other chemicals in his water – all within normal EPA regulatory drinking water limits.

Ultra ignored Pat’s repeated requests for his hard copy water results He was still showering in and drinking his water. Pat ultimately got a copy of his results directly from Bailey Labs. Pat saw the organic chemicals in his water, and asked Ultra for replacement water. Ultra ignored Pat’s requests for replacement water. Pat was still sick and continued to shower in and drink his well water.

Pat had not yet contacted DEP, he gave Ultra the chance to make it right. Pat did not know that Ultra was in contact with PA DEP all along, assuring them they had nothing to do with Pat’s contaminated water well.

They blamed Pat’s tractor for the organic chemicals in his well water.

Pat called PA DEP in April, to tell them his well had organic chemicals in it, that he was sick, and that he had results from Ultra’s independent lab Bailey. He was instructed to fax the results to Caleb Woolever at PA DEP. Mr. Woolever told Pat that DEP would only sample his well water if Ultra were present to do a split sample. Mr. Volitis objected and said he had already given the first shot at making things right to Ultra, and was contacting DEP as Ultra had not straightened out his water issues. DEP would not test without Ultra’s split sampling.

In May 2010, Mr. Volitis agreed to let Ultra split sample with PA DEP. Two PA DEP Oil and Gas reps, one of which was Caleb Woolever, two Ultra reps, and three reps from Bailey Labs arrived at Pat’s remote mountain top cabin to sample his well water which previously tested positive for benzene, acetone, xylene, butyl alcohol, and other organics.

Mr. Volitis had a witness who happened to be a lawyer and he told industry and DEP he had not retained this lawyer but allowed him to witness and take notes. Caleb Woolever, PA DEP, got angry and refused to sample as he said ULTRA was not notified Pat would have a lawyer present at the sampling. Mr. Woolever stepped away called someone on his cell phone, and returned and said it as okay to sample.

Three months later after repeated requests to DEP for his results during which he told them he was ill, Pat finally got his results. The determination letter from DEP, signed by Mr. Woolever, stated that Pat’s water had not been impacted by drilling, that the still present benzene and xylene were within normal drinking water limits, that the acetone and ethylbenzaldehyde were PA DEP Lab contaminants, that there were no standards to interpret the presence of tertbutyl alchohol and several other organics in his well water.

DEP had determined there was nothing wrong with his water. Pat asked that DEP repeat the testing as they noted lab contamination by their own lab.

DEP refused to repeat the results to rule out lab contamination in his water results. That month, August 2010, Pat stopped drinking his water and stopped showering in it. He had called Dr Theo Colbourne’s office and learned about chemical absorption through skin. He got his own water buffalo, started hauling his own water, and buying bottled water with which to drink and cook.

Today, 3 years later after his initial water impact, Pat has ongoing multiple health issues, and continues to haul and buy his own water. He did not come today as he does not feel well. He wanted to share that he is very disappointed with PA DEP and feels they are working for the natural gas industry. He suggests we follow the money trail and that we rename DEP the Department of Energy Protection.


Harmed No More!

by Gerri Wiley

Are you alarmed by the List of the Harmed,
The people who’ve been hurt by fracking?
Whether or not they have signed a gas lease
With details of risks sadly lacking?
Are you dismayed with indifference displayed
By the oil and gas corps for this harm
To people who seek a more prosperous life,
But instead risk their lives and their farm?
Are you concerned over facts that you’ve learned,
That those who are sworn to protect
Are paid to write laws serving industry goals
And to give our appeals no respect?
Go forth with us, now—We the people must rise,
Reclaim our voice and agree
To be stewards of land that’s been given to us,
To take pride in our right to be free!

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