Published: September 29, 2014
By: Nadia Steinzor
Other parts of Blackout in the Gas Patch:
From the case study:
Not long after the Cowden Unit and Drugmand Unit well sites were developed in McDonald, residents living near the sites started experiencing a range of new health symptoms, including sinus and respiratory problems, weakness, fatigue, skin rashes, and headaches. Initially, the most likely source of these problems seemed to be the drilling and completion of the wells, processes that can release significant emissions into the air over a relatively short period of time.
Then residents found themselves faced with a 13.5 million-gallon impoundment. The operator, Range Resources, originally proposed it as a freshwater storage facility servicing the Cowden Unit and Drugmand Unit wells. But over time, the Carter Impoundment became a storage facility for contaminated wastewater and fluids trucked in from over 190 wells in a dozen townships.
From the beginning, there were irregularities with the permitting process and problems at the site. Despite ongoing resident complaints, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has issued only one violation to date for the Carter Impoundment (and none for the Cowden Unit or Drugmand Unit wells). As detailed in the events timeline below, DEP seems to have given the operator, Range Resources, “the benefit of the doubt” about what occurred at the site and to question the validity of residents’ complaints.
It is difficult to know whether more careful permitting review and stronger DEP oversight and enforcement actions would have prevented the problems experienced by nearby residents. But it is very clear that DEP never questioned whether having a very large impoundment close to people’s home—and later allowing it to become a centralized waste facility for the region—would pose a risk to their health and well-being, and did not take any action to prevent that from happening.