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Hanger: DEP should reopen contamination probe

December 13, 2013 - Ben Klein
Michael Rubinkam Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection should order a natural gas driller to keep tanks that have been supplying fresh water to families who claim the company polluted their wells, Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former DEP secretary John Hanger said Friday.

Hanger said in a letter to Republican Gov. Tom Corbett and Environmental Secretary Chris Abruzzo that the DEP should reopen its investigation into the contamination in Franklin Forks, a village in Susquehanna County that attracted a high-profile visit earlier this year from anti-fracking celebrities Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon and Susan Sarandon.

State environmental regulators concluded in April that gas drilling wasn't responsible for the problems in three families' water wells. Tulsa, Okla.-based WPX Energy Inc. recently won a federal court order allowing it onto the properties, and the company plans to remove its water buffaloes and other equipment from two of the homes on Monday. It removed a third tank earlier.

But Hanger cited new data by an Ohio State University scientist purporting to show that nearby gas wells could have been the source of the methane in the residents' water.

He said WPX is behaving abominably and should donate the tanks to the families, even if it's ultimately shown that it had nothing to do with the pollution.

"To remove these tanks is unconscionable and unfathomable," he told The Associated Press. "This is exactly the kind of arrogant, inhumane behavior that is creating widespread condemnation of the gas industry. To leave those families a week before Christmas without any water source takes my breath away."

Representatives from WPX and the environmental agency did not immediately return messages Friday.

The residents, who are suing WPX, and anti-drilling activists accuse the company of polluting the water. They dispute the DEP's finding that methane in the residents' wells is naturally occurring shallow gas — possibly from nearby Salt Springs State Park — and not production gas from the Marcellus Shale formation. WPX and industry officials say the region's water supply is laced with naturally occurring methane.

WPX also says that the one of the wells — at the home of Matthew and Tammy Manning — was flooded in 2011 and suffered mechanical failure.

The company tried to work with the Mannings and the other residents to help them get their wells fixed, WPX spokeswoman Susan Oliver said in an interview before Hanger sent his letter. But she said out-of-state anti-drilling activists have exploited them for their own political ends.

"If it wasn't for the activists yelling and screaming, we could have helped that family fix the mechanics of their well," she said.

The Mannings recently ordered a new water buffalo to replace the one being removed by WPX, but couldn't scrape together the money to pay for it, Tammy Manning said.

"We just didn't have it," she said. "It's Christmastime, and we can't even afford to fill our propane tanks."

Supporters are trying to collect money to pay for new equipment at the homes, sending out a fundraising email headlined: "A Grinch Christmas in Franklin Forks, Pa.?"

For now, Manning and her husband plan to fill jugs of water at a spring or at a relative's home.

"We're fed up with the legal system. We're fed up with elected officials. We're just fed up," she said.


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