TOWANDA - Just a few days after a Chesapeake natural gas drilling site flowback fluid spill contaminated pasture land and spilled into Towanda Creek here, Attorney Todd O'Malley led a group of about four dozen protesters, many of them who have had their water spoiled - they say by natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale - in a protest across the street from Chesapeake's headquarters here Friday.
Amid shouts of "save our water," and "stop the drilling" as natural gas drilling trucks and heavy traffic rushed by on Fox Chase Drive, O'Malley, a workman's compensation and work safety attorney with offices here and in Scranton, said he was representing three families on Paradise Road in arbitration between the families against Chief, Cabot and Chesapeake, and "a number of other federal lawsuits."
O'Malley said he was not the only attorney involved in similar suits, which he said probably number in the hundreds.
CHERYL R. CLARKE/Sun-Gazette
Protesters rally around attorney Todd O’Malley during a protest against gas drilling in Pennsylvania in the wake of Wednesday’s natural gas frack water spill in Leroy Township. The protest attracted many who say their water has been contaminate by drilling as we as environmental activists from Pennsylvania and New York state.
"I have personally spoken to about 30 families, some on Leroy Mountain Road, but there are other law firms representing others and a greater number are not represented," he said.
O'Malley said though some of his clients have leased with drilling companies, they said they did it because they were "told by the companies that the land was needed because it would help them remove our dependence on foreign oil," he said.
O'Malley said to a number of reporters and television news people that he hoped to write a letter to the state's legislators and Gov. Tom Corbett and to deliver bottles of allegedly contaminated water from the private wells of affected landowners so "they can see what these people have to live with every day."
One of the residents impacted spoke directly with the Sun-Gazette.
Crystal Stroud, 29, a hair stylist from Granville Summit, said her water started turning white and emitting vapors about a month ago, but she continued to drink it because she "was under the impression you didn't have to worry about your water until they started fracking."
A drilling site had been erected just before she noticed the change in the water, and she decided to have it tested by a laboratory.
Stroud said she was the only one in her household that was drinking the water, filtered from her refrigerator, but she and her four year old son and husband were bathing in it and she used it for all other household chores, washing dishes and clothing.
Stroud said she finally went to a doctor after she became so ill her hair started falling out and she was unable to perform her job because her muscles were weak and she was experiencing severe tremors in her hands. She also experienced a racing heart, high blood pressure and stomach cramps.
The water test revealed high doses of lead, strontium, barium, arsenic, radium and other chemicals, she said, and she immediately stopped drinking the water, but the damage had been done.
She broke down as she described the results of a blood test her doctors ordered last week, it was found to contain high levels of barium, which can cause heart and liver damage, as well as the other symptoms she experienced.
She said she is extremely concerned especially about the high levels of lead in the water and how it could affect her child's brain and internal organs.
Though she is feeling better since she stopped drinking the water, her barium levels remain high, at 110 as opposed to 0-10, considered normal, and she is trying to flush the poison from her system by drinking bottled water and taking potassium to replace what the barium has leached from her system, she said.
The family is still living in their home, using water supplied by Crystal's father, who purchased a water buffalo to replace their well water.
She has not heard from Chief Oil and Gas, who own the drilling rig and site, but she is in contact with DEP, she said, who are working with the family and investigating their claim.
Department of Environmental spokeswoman Katy Gresh said "DEP is committed to overseeing this growing industry in an environmentally and economically conscious manner. The agency's strong stance on enforcement reflects that commitment."
Chesapeake media relations coordinator Rory Sweeney said the company declined to comment on the protest, and there was no response from Chief to phone calls placed earlier this week.