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CLEARVILLE – Angel Smith and her husband, Wayne, have lost animals on their
Bedford County farm and have begun to see health effects on themselves. They
believe the problems are a result of contamination from a natural gas
project of water that they give their animals and use to wash their hands
and brush their teeth.
“It’s around all this drilling,” Angel Smith said.
As the Steckman Ridge underground natural gas storage field project from
Texas-based Spectra Energy began to take off in 2007, the Smiths saw some of
their cows and one of their horses seemingly lose all control of motor
skills before dying a short time later. A pet Dalmatian also died.
A veterinarian said the deaths could be attributed to high levels of
arsenic, a chemical that has steadily increased in water tested by state
Department of Environmental Protection and Spectra Energy on the Smith’s
property in the past two years, Angel Smith said.
In addition to the arsenic, the Smiths said they also have seen an increase
in minerals like iron, sodium and magnesium.
Wayne Smith has developed abscessed teeth and other mouth problems, and his
wife said both have developed an increase in headaches. Around the time of
last year’s compressor station shutdowns, the Smiths said they felt
generally badly after being outside tending to their farm. The issues led to
litigation filed against Spectra.
“We shouldn’t have even been washing our hands or brushing our teeth,” Angel
Smith said. “It makes me wonder, what have we been drinking?”
DEP spokesman Dan Spadoni said his agency has done several samples of
private wells in the Clearville area during the past 18 months.
The tests, Spadoni said, look for a standard list of 13 possible
contaminants that could have been caused by the natural gas project,
including methane, iron, sodium and other components, but he was “not aware
that there were levels of concern” in those test results.
“We’ve had a number of complaints in the past year, year and a half
regarding possible contamination of private drinking water wells from
natural gas well drilling,” he said. “We’ve spent considerable staff time in
that area in the past 12 to 18 months with regards to this issue.”
The simpler tests done by Spectra and DEP don’t check for chemicals brought
into the water by hydraulic fracturing, a technique used in similar projects
that blasts millions of gallons of chemically-treated water into the ground
to break up deposits that hold oil or gas, an environmental group said.
That test is one of many stronger regulations being pushed on state
officials by groups like Earthjustice, a nonprofit law firm that presented
DEP with ways to protect drinking water in places like Clearville.
“We’re certainly hearing a lot about the effects on drinking water,”
Earthjustice Northeast Office Managing Attorney Deborah Goldberg said.
“There’s very little right now that controls in a meaningful way how this is
happening. Everywhere gas drilling goes in, we’re starting to hear of
While states like New York have tough environmental review laws, there’s
nothing like that currently in Pennsylvania.
Spadoni said he was not aware of Earthjustice’s recommendations and could
not comment on their suggested guidelines.
On April 3, the Concerned Citizens of Clearville group will host a public
meeting beginning at 1 p.m. at the Pleasant Union Church, with professors
and other experts on drinking water and natural gas projects’ effect on it.
“We’re just trying to spark a little change,” Angel Smith said. “We’re
trying to get some laws changed and get more people aware of what’s going
Water quality impact issues have been raised by Clearville-area residents
previously, but that with the exception of one case that is pending
litigation, those have been handled on an individual basis through the
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and DEP, Spectra spokeswoman Wendy
“Those issues have all been addressed,” Olson said. “The objective is to
take each issue and each conern and work through it and resolve it. We want
to be a good neighbor.”
Mirror Staff Writer Wendy Zook is at 946-7520.