By Monica Pryts/Staff Writer
BUTLER, LAWRENCE, MERCER COUNTIES —
Heather and David DeSuta of Worth Township, Butler County, have taken it upon themselves to learn more about fracking since a neighbor has an active well, which smelled so strongly of gas one night they filed a report.
"There's not really any communication from Shell," said Mrs. DeSuta, whose family includes their two young children.
They can see the well through the trees at the edge of their five-acre property; the drilling site is on West Liberty Road farmland owned by William and Dee Dee Drake, who have leased part of their property to Shell Exploration & Production Co., LP of Warrendale.
"I don't like having an industrial site near my house," Mrs. DeSuta said, adding she and her husband were approached by Shell to lease their land for drilling rights; they turned them down.
One night at the beginning of October, she noticed an odor outside that smelled like gas or oil, which worried her since she wasn't sure if she was supposed to smell anything coming from the drill site.
"I haven't smelled it since," she said.
She filed a report with the state Department of Environmental Protection, the Environmental Protection Agency and Shell.
Shell told her a tank had a leak while DEP said there was no leak; EPA didn't respond but the different answers have left the DeSutas confused.
"You're kind of on your own," she said of the Internet research they've been doing and trying to find others who live near an active well to compare notes. A group called Marcellus Outreach Butler has also been helpful.
Allied News also contacted DEP regarding the Drake well after the DeSutas filed their report. The odors were investigated by field staffers, who said Shell told them the smell happened during flowback before they burned the gas, said Gary Clark, DEP spokesperson.
Flowback refers to the fluid that comes back out of the well during the hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" process, where sand, water and lubricants are pumped into the well to break up the Marcellus Shale deposits, he said.
At the Drake well, a small amount of unwanted gas was burned from the top of a tall stack, creating the odor, which is expected to be minimal to non-existent.
The DeSutas may have been able to smell the gas that night if there was little to no wind, Clark said.
But the DeSutas are continuing to do their homework because they're concerned about how the nearby fracking will impact their property value and water supply.
Mrs. DeSuta on Oct. 24 attended a water quality monitoring workshop at Westminster College hosted by a watchdog group called Truth in Fracking Alliance of Lawrence and Mercer Counties.
"It was encouraging to see how many people turned up," she said, adding the workshop got her interested in possibly getting trained to test water quality.
Carrie Hahn, leader of Truth in Fracking, was also pleased with the 30 people who came to learn more about testing streams and creeks near where they live.
"Water quality is a big one," she said of a common concern among the attendees.
A representative from the Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring, or ALLARM, based out of Dickinson College in Carlisle, also spoke, saying their group is putting together a more comprehensive website that will allow people to easily report their water testing findings.
Some Westminster students under the direction of Dr. Helen Boylan, associate professor of chemistry, are also getting involved and planning their own website, Hahn said.
"Westminster College is very active and involved to monitor air and water quality," she said, adding Boylan is applying for grants to help with testing.
Truth in Fracking expects to schedule more workshops and training sessions in the coming months. They're looking for 15 to 30 people willing to help monitor streams and creeks, especially Mercer County residents since that area is one of the last to start the fracking process, Hahn said.
She also recommends homeowners who live near an active well to test their own water using a "Tier 3" test, one step up from the test gas companies use on drill sites and neighboring properties.
For more information related to the efforts of Truth in Fracking Alliance of Lawrence and Mercer Counties, find them on Facebook or visit these websites run by the Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring, or ALLARM, based out of Dickinson College in Carlisle: www.blogs.dickinson.edu/marcellusmonitoring or www.dickinson.edu/ALLARM
Marcellus Outreach Butler also has information for Butler County residents at www.marcellusoutreachbutler.org
Published Oct. 31, 2012, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.