It has been almost a year since an EQT shale gas well interacted, or “communicated”, with a shallow abandoned well in New Freeport, PA. This resulted in fracking fluid spilling out and potentially getting into the water supply of residents in the area. This occurred on June 19, 2022, and it did not take long for people who live nearby to notice the possible effects from this incident.
People quickly noticed rashes and hives, as well as a “slippery” feeling to the water, after they took a shower. Some people said that they got sick after using their well water to make their coffee. They noticed unusual smells around the area and from their sinks and hoses. Plants were said to wilt after they were watered using the water from these wells and springs. Pets refused to drink the water and there appeared to be small, dark pellet-like substances when people ran their faucets.
On June 22, 2022, the PA DEP began testing residents’ well water and EQT shut down operations at the Lumber Well Pad, where the shale gas well that communicated with the abandoned one is located.
This was an incident that was very personal to me, as New Freeport is where I grew up and where most of my family still lives. I had just begun working at CCJ about three months before, so I was able to find out who I should contact to help. I reached out to Dr. John Stolz of Duquesne University, who quickly responded and began independent water testing of his own on June 27th.
During the next few months, while the results from the DEP and Dr. Stolz were being finalized, I spoke to residents about their experiences and concerns. CCJ held a small meeting in August for several concerned residents, and then a slightly larger meeting in October for even more concerned folks who live in New Freeport and nearby. During the meeting in October, Dr. Stolz presented his results, which showed high levels of methane and other chemicals associated with fracking contamination. During this meeting, New Freeport residents continued to express their concerns about their wells and springs and stated that they only wanted simple accountability from those responsible. They asked for clean drinking water and the peace of mind of knowing that what they were drinking, cooking with, and bathing in was not harming them.
Several residents tried to contact their elected representatives with little luck, and some attempted to reach out to EQT to ask for, at the least, temporary drinking water while the investigation was ongoing. This also resulted in no luck or results.
We at CCJ then decided to go ahead and hold a water drive to get some water to the people who needed it before the 2022 holiday season. Thanks to generous community donations, we were able to fundraise and distribute about $4,000 worth of water to impacted residents.
Since the beginning of 2023, CCJ has been holding monthly community meetings in New Freeport to hear from people about their concerns and issues surrounding this incident, as well as provide any updates or guidance that we can. At the most recent meeting on March 29, 2023, residents were still very concerned and seeing possible effects from what happened ten months ago from the EQT fracking incident.
Impacted residents, families, homeowners, and us at CCJ are still waiting for a determination from the DEP. We are all still waiting on accountability and a source of reliable clean water, which is a basic need and, according to the Pennsylvania Constitution, a right. We, including myself and my family, are still waiting on peace of mind. We may not get that, however, if operations are allowed to resume in an area full of abandoned and unplugged wells where this could happen again.
New Freeport and the area surrounding the small village has quite a few abandoned wells that have yet to be claimed. It is likely that some are not even on the radar, and are hidden away and absolutely forgotten. Some residents have voiced the concern that maybe this area is not even suited for fracking because of how many abandoned wells are around, which increases the possibility that a similar incident could happen again there.
Part of the issue with incidents like this is also that when water tests are conducted as a response, there are only so many things being tested for. There are hundreds of known and/or suspected chemicals that oil and gas companies potentially use to frack. Some of those they are allowed to keep as a “trade secret” and some of those could be toxic and or carcinogenic. This is also a very large concern for folks in New Freeport and other areas where fracking is taking place. When an incident like the New Freeport “frac out” in June of 2022 happens, the not knowing of what is in the water is one of the worst parts. Every day that people drink from their sinks, fill up their pets’ water bowls, and take a shower, they are anxious that harm is being done.
Now, in April of 2023, ten months since the initial incident, that is where we stand. Residents still feel like they are in the dark without full answers or justice and are not sure who or what to trust. They do not know for sure if their water is safe and they do not feel confident enough to simply use it as they did before this happened.
The New Freeport area is a small, rural, and isolated place, but the people there deserve answers and a quick response from agencies that are meant to protect them. They deserve to be listened to.
This incident is the perfect example of how risky this industry is, what can go wrong, and how much transparency and accountability is needed from these companies who claim to be good neighbors. Being good neighbors means stepping up and taking care of the community you are working in and extracting from. These “frac outs” are rare, but they can happen, especially in areas with larger numbers of abandoned wells.
The Center For Coalfield Justice is once again asking for community support. We are extending our water drive for a while longer and hoping to be able to provide more water to those who need it in New Freeport. If you can help with as little as $5, you can donate online by clicking here.
You can also drop water off to our office located at 31 East Chestnut St. Washington, PA 15301. We ask that you give us a call at (724) 229- 3550 to arrange a drop off time.
Like I said, this incident and the overarching issues are very personal to me. This is my home, my family, and my community that are being affected. I personally appreciate all of the support we are getting.
If you have any questions or want any more information about this issue, please reach out to me.