In Pennsylvania, cash-strapped Westmoreland County is leasing out their watershed – to a fracking operation:
Fracking began at Beaver Run in 2008 — one year, incidentally, after the municipal authority upheld a fishing ban in the reservoir due to public health concerns.
CNX says it has plans for up to 30 shale gas wells at the reservoir from five different drilling sites. Both CNX and the water authority have groundwater monitoring wells around the reservoir. As an extra precaution, CNX is drilling five well casings instead of the state-mandated two.
So far, the company has a good record at the site, without any violations from state regulators.
Still, many residents like Walter wonder how drilling was permitted in a reservoir watershed where virtually all other activities are banned. Others are angry they weren’t informed about the gas development and feel excluded from a public decision.
When Joe Evans, a medical engineer and member of Citizens for the Preservation of Rural Murrysville, saw aerial maps of the reservoir in 2009, he was stunned.
“I was shocked that a process that I was finding to be dangerous was allowed to take place on a reservoir property, where even hiking and fishing from the banks is prohibited for fear of pollution,” he said.
Brien Palmer, a business technology consultant and fellow member of the citizens group, said he’s not opposed to gas drilling but questions the judgment of the water utility. “The fact that they would drill near a drinking water source first, and not as a last resort, is astonishing,” he said. “I’m just not sure what I can say to someone who can’t see the absurdity of fracking in a drinking well basin.”
Daniel Jonczak, an electrical engineer who lives two miles from the Beaver Run Reservoir, says that he, too, is a far cry from an anti-drilling activist. He grew up in the 1970s, when Westmoreland County’s streams flowed orange from acid mine drainage. So extreme was the damage, Jonczak laments, that local creeks were given names like coal tar run. Gas was always seen as less polluting.
Yet the decision to lease Beaver Run Reservoir has him extremely worried.
“Are we really sure what’s going on with MAWC [Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County] and the water supplied to half of Westmoreland County?” asked Jonczak. “The chance of a spill is just too huge. I don’t think they were aware of the risks.”