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DEP Cites 243 Cases Of Well Water Contaminated By Drilling Wastewater

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- The state is out with new information about how many private drinking water wells have been contaminated due to drilling activities.

It comes six years into the natural gas boom.

Ken Geary used to get pristine water from his well in Stahlstown, near Ligonier, but that's no longer true.

"It stinks, stinks real bad, and you can't drink it," he says of the water.

The state Department of Environmental Protection says that Geary's is one of three wells contaminated from a wastewater impoundment on a nearby well pad drilled by WPX Appalachia.

The wells are among some 243 cases cited by DEP since the drilling boom began six years ago. They involve both conventional natural gas wells and unconventional shale gas wells, and environmentalists say the number is disturbing.

"What I think it says, first of all, is that natural gas operations, regardless of whether it's shale gas or shallow conventional drilling, are impacting drinking water here in Pennsylvania contrary what the industry has been telling us the entire time," said Steve Hvozdovich, of Clean Water Action.

"It's important to recognize that this represents less than one percent of all the wells drilled here," said Travis Windle, of the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

The shale gas industry concedes that there have been, what they term, a very small number of well water containments incidents, which they say mostly occurred early on in the boom from surface spills.

They say that number has decreased markedly in the past three years with greater regulation and better practices, such as cement standards for drill bore casings to prevent gas migration.

"It's in our interest to protect the environment. We have a mission that's clear and that keep our environment safe for our kids and grandkids, and we want to have zero incidents, zero spills across all of our operations," said Windle.

On that both sides agree. The goal is zero contamination, but while the gas industry says we're headed in that direction, environmentalists say we're going the other way.

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