Published: June 4, 2010
DIMOCK TWP. - Residents' complaints about spills, leaks and drinking-water contamination from Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling drew several high-profile environmentalists to Susquehanna County on Thursday.
They included Robert F. Kennedy Jr., one of the nation's foremost environmental attorneys, who called the natural gas industry "just completely and utterly untrustworthy."
Mr. Kennedy was joined by attorneys and activists with the Natural Resources Defense Council, a national environmental group for which he is senior attorney, Catskills Mountainkeeper and Riverkeeper, including actor Mark Ruffalo and former New York Rangers goalie Mike Richter.
The group gathered in the home of one resident among 14 in the township whose drinking water was found by state environmental regulators to have been contaminated with methane from natural gas drilling.
The group then took a tour of the concentrated area where more than 60 wells have been drilled.
The residents told stories about the persistence of methane contamination in their drinking water and inadequate solutions to remove or replace it. They also talked about spills on or around their properties and assurances they said the gas companies made and broke.
Mr. Kennedy, who believes natural gas is an important bridge fuel on the way to developing greener energy alternatives, said most of the problems caused by the industry are solvable, "but you need really tough oversight by the regulatory agencies" and for best practices to be required by law.
He referred to his work to restrict or clean up dirtier energy extraction processes, including a lawsuit he filed against BP for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. He was driving back to New York after spending most of the day in Dimock in order to speak about the spill on CNN on Thursday night.
"I see the coal industry blowing up mountains, and I filed the first lawsuit in the Gulf," he said. "I'm saying, gas has got to be better than this."
Foremost among his concerns about the shale gas extraction process, he said, is the industrialization of landscapes where drilling occurs, like the hills and valleys of Dimock.
But there are models in other areas, including Arkansas, where well development is restricted to one pad per square mile in order to avoid unnecessary roads, pipelines and development, he said. Advances in horizontal drilling, where the drill bit turns and burrows laterally through the shale, have allowed companies to extract gas from up to seven miles underground from one well pad.
But he cautioned the Dimock residents that his experiences have taught him never to trust "any of these gas companies."
"They all seem to be pathological liars," he said. "You can make deals with them, and they're going to break the deals. You've seen that happen at the local level; I've seen it at the national level."
Victoria Switzer, the resident who hosted the meeting, said advances in the industry's technology and best practices are encouraging, but it will not change what she and her neighbors suffered because of laxer practices, some of which are still allowed by law.
"Why don't we stop them behaving this way?" she said.