Bloomberg News takes the low road through small-town Pennsylvania by siding with the plaintiffs in a natural gas lawsuit, making major factual errors and choosing sensation over substance at almost every turn.
Like a lot of small communities, the village of Franklin Forks in northeastern Pennsylvania can be pretty confusing to outsiders, especially if they’re just passing through. It can be hard enough to find your way back to the Interstate, so trying to understand the inner workings of a tight-knit community in just a few days is a pretty tall order – especially when there’s controversy involved.
Not according to Bloomberg News, however, who recently traveled from Washington, D.C. to Franklin Forks to cover the controversy there over a lawsuit filed against a natural gas developer. In the lawsuit, a local family alleges that their water well is contaminated with methane from a natural gas well over 4,000 feet away while ignoring the area’s 200-year recorded history of naturally occurring methane in groundwater, concluding that the gas industry must be responsible.
Wrong on “violations” at the DePue well:
Bloomberg: “The state forced the local deli, Heavenly Angels, to post a sign saying its water contained arsenic, and issued a series of violation notices against WPX for its drilling work. Among those violations was one for “failure to properly cement intermediate casing” in a well on the DePue property, according to a state report.”
- According to Department of Environmental Protection Bureau of Oil and Gas Management Document Number 550-4000-001, “The minimum action for any violation is a written notification in the form of a Notice of Violation.” (emphasis added)
- No violations have been levied against WPX Energy for the well casing on the DePue well according to a representative at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP):
WPX has not been given an official “Notice of Violation” (NOV) from DEP for well casings or methane migration related to DePue well in Franklin Township, Susquehanna County. The violations were only listed in an inspection report. – Colleen Connolly, Community Relations Coordinator
- Rather, in February 2011, DEP noted bubbling in the cellar of the well and has continued to monitor the situation as noted on various inspection reports ( 1950413, 1950415, 1954842, 1974964, 2053535). Multiple inspections are not violations. No “Notices of Violation” have been registered on the DePue well casings. WPX continues continues to work cooperatively with DEP on the investigation.
- In Susquehanna County, WPX has been inspected by DEP more than 100 times in the first quarter of 2012 and as noted has not received a single “Notice of Violation.”
Wrong on methane levels in the Manning home:
Bloomberg: “When methane is present at high concentrations, it can displace oxygen in the air, causing nausea, according to a Pennsylvania state health fact sheet.”
- The air samples indicating more than negligible amounts of methane were taken less than an inch from the hot water heater and running hot water in the kitchen sink on December 27, 2011 . When moving an inch away all methane readings registered zero. Additionally, all ambient air readings taken inside the Manning home (Resident A) registered no methane. (Residential Air Monitoring Within 500 Feet of Manning Residence)
Wrong on causes of methane:
Bloomberg: “Even if it isn’t Marcellus gas, shoddy well design or drilling practices can push shallower gas and related pollutants into the aquifer, activists say.”
- Pre-drill and Post-drill testing of water sources within the regulatory 1,000 foot radius (now 2,500 feet) of the two WPX natural gas wells showed no change in water quality (Pre and Post development water testing on DePue well).
- Franklin Forks is located next to Salt Springs State Park, an area with a long history of bubbling methane in the water as noticed in state documents, historical news accounts, and seen in this video. According to state documents (history tab):
“Numerous attempts were made by different entrepreneurs to develop the spring for commercial gain between 1795 and 1870. The brine obtained produced a high quality salt, but not enough could be coaxed out of the ground to yield a profit. The water was noted to be more sulphureous than salty. Bubbles would rise to the surface and when touched with fire would flash like black powder.” (Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources- Salt Springs State Park)
- This longstanding history of methane was further noted in a recent study that reviewed over two-hundred years of data which identified methane’s presence in the area since the 1800’s (graphic below)
- Reviews show the methane in the Manning’s water well “match the characteristics of the shallow methane that has been in Franklin Forks and the Salt Springs area for many decades.” (Scranton Times Tribune, May 9, 2012)
- In addition, major flooding occurred in the region in 2011 and flood waters overtopped the Manning’s water well and others (photo below. According to research conducted by the University of North Carolina water level changes impact methane release. From the study: “Changing water levels on bank margins, flooding and draining twice daily, should also greatly affect methane release from these soils.”
Wrong on arsenic:
Bloomberg: “The state forced the local deli, Heavenly Angels, to post a sign saying its water contained arsenic, and issued a series of violation notices against WPX for its drilling work.”
- As indicated earlier, no “Notices of Violation” have been issued to WPX in regards to well casings on the DePue well.
- A Pennsylvania DEP press release states arsenic is widespread in the region absent any connection to natural gas development:
“Detectable concentrations of naturally occurring arsenic have been found in 18 of the 169 private water wells and springs sampled across northern Pennsylvania. Ten wells, or approximately six percent of those wells tested, contained water with arsenic concentrations greater than 10 parts per billion (ppb), the maximum amount allowable in public drinking water supplies, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) announced… This study included the counties of Bradford, Potter, Tioga, Susquehanna, Pike, Sullivan, Wayne, and Wyoming” (emphasis added)
Wrong on the basics:
Bloomberg: “When they moved into the house under a rent-to-own arrangement in 2011, the water posed no issue, they said. They signed a purchase agreement in June.”
- While the Manning’s lived in the house prior to 2012, according to legal documents they entered into a rent-to-own contract in June 2012, six months after the DEP investigation began at the Manning’s request.
Bloomberg: “On Dec. 6, I flushed the toilet and the water came in a dark gray, Tammy Manning said. They looked outside at their well, and the water was shooting out with force.”
- WPX engineers, with over 30 years of experience, inspected the Manning well noting a mechanical issue with the well’s pumping system. In their visual inspection, WPX saw moving parts inside the well casing that need to be investigated. Because there is indication of moving mechanical parts inside the water well and it is not operating correctly, WPX and DEP have asked repeatedly for permission to conduct an independent evaluation of the water well at no expense to the Mannings. Those requests have been ignored or denied.
Bloomberg: “The debate in Franklin Forks, just 10 miles (16.1 kilometers) from the New York line, is drawing interested visitors. Officials, citizens, scientists and lawyers from New York, which is considering ending a de facto moratorium on fracking, visit in droves. So have film crews and citizens from South Africa, Poland, France and Canada. They often take a bus tour across the region, including stops at the Manning home and outside DePue’s gate, with local activists Vera Scroggins or Rebecca Roter.”
- Rebecca Roter is not a “local activist”. Rebecca Roter is a second home owner in Susquehanna County with her primary residence (page 5) existing in Ottsville, Pa. which is located in Tinicum Township, Bucks County, Pa.