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KD Investigates: As Drilling Ramps Up, So Do The Lawsuits

CHARTIERS-HOUSTON (KDKA) -- Gary Andreis's house in Chartiers-Houston is just downhill from a natural gas compressor station which he says has flooded his yard and poisoned his well, forcing him and his family to live on bottled water.

"My water well's contaminated," says Andreis. "I got bad arsenic problems, other chemicals in my water well."

Andreis blames runoff from a containment pond adjacent to the compressor station and has hired an attorney to take the owner and operator, MarkWest Energy, to court.

"We'll be filing a suit against MarkWest," said Charles Kurowski, Andreis's attorney.

If and when Andreis files, he'll be joining scores of property owners in Washington, Fayette, and now Butler County who have taken shale gas companies to court. But the industry says the number of those suits is not reflective of the job it has done in safeguarding the public.

"A lawyer wants you to give them a call if you're bit by a dog or fall on the sidewalk. It's not all that surprising," says Dave Spigelmyer, of the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

Spigelmyer says the industry has done an exemplary job in protecting groundwater and minimizing the impacts of drilling, saying the vast majority of the complaints have not been borne out in court.

"Without talking specifically about a case, in most cases across Pennsylvania, this industry has done a great job in protecting the environment," Spigelmyer says.

But the number of complaints has increased with the different types of infrastructure needed to harvest, process and bring the gas to market. In addition to the compressor station, Andreis is flanked by a frack water impoundment and a drilling site down the road and he complains of noise, traffic and air pollution.

"I'm in the middle of everything. I'm in the middle of a war zone," Andreis says.

But MarkWest disputes Andreis claim that runoff from their pond has contaminated his well. They say the pond contains no chemicals at all, but only storm water.

In a statement, they say: "Based on water testing results provided to MarkWest by the landowner, it is clear that our operations have not impacted their well water. MarkWest remains steadfast in our commitment to operate our facilities in compliance with all local, state and federal regulations and strives to be good neighbors in communities where we operate."

Whether Andreis's claims have merit will likely be decided by a judge, but as drilling ramps up in the region, claims like it are sure to follow.

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