Don’t Drink the Water

Residents of Lenox Township have filed suit against a Texas energy company alleging that the company's practices may have contaminated the town's drinking water. The company was mining for natural gas in the area, and was employing the process of hydrofracking to bring the gas to the surface. The suit has asked the court to prohibit the company from the practice of hydrofracking, and also for reimbursement for future medical costs.

Hydrofracking is a common, yet controversial, method of natural gas mining that is practiced by many different mining operations in Pennsylvania. Pressurized water, chemicals and sand are injected deep into the ground to break through bedrock or other obstructions. Once the fluid mixture breaks through the rocks, the sand coats the break to allow the gas to flow through. This speeds the time it would ordinarily take for natural gas to reach the surface.

The mixture is extracted from the ground to prevent contamination. Problems may arise if the chemicals find their way into wells or other water sources that are closer to the surface than the gas reserves. One of the major concerns regarding hydrofracking is that the type of chemicals used is not disclosed to residents. Each company uses different materials and procedures, and considers this a trade secret.

The Lenox Township suit alleges that chemicals containing barium, manganese and strontium were used in this particular hydrofracking operation. While contamination of wells or groundwater is one of the major environmental hazards in hydrofracking, it is not the only one. When the bedrock becomes cracked, seismic stability becomes an issue, as the increased pressure could cause readjustments in the form of small earthquakes.

Those employed by hydrofracking companies face dangers as well. Not only are workers exposed to whatever chemicals are being used, giving rise to possible industrial accidents, but the fumes from the gases present also create the potential for explosions. Workers also must transport toxic residue after the hydrofracking procedure is complete, with additional possible exposure to dangerous chemicals.

With the dangers present in hydrofracking, care needs to be exercised when implementing this method of natural gas removal. New York is considering temporary suspension of hydrofracking to more fully determine the environmental impact, citing many of the issues present in Pennsylvania. If you have been sickened from contaminated water because of a nearby hydrofracking operation, or you are a worker that has been injured in an industrial or manufacturing accident, speak with an experienced attorney to protect yourself.