RDA Board Member Accounts First-hand Experience with ‘Fracking Spill’

“Unknown but not hazardous”

DEP’s claim is no confidence-builder

A first hand account of Saturday’s gas industry spill, written by RDA Board member Barb Jarmoska.

The skies clouded over and a gentle rain began. The change in the weather on Saturday caused Steve Marquardt, out riding his new motorcycle, to head for his home on Wallis Run Road. Suddenly, the bike’s front end lost stability and traction, and in an instant the motorcycle and Steve went in opposite directions. The bike spun into a stone wall and Steve slammed onto the pavement.

The cause of the accident was a slick, gel-like, foamy substance that was spilled on the south bound lane of Wallis Run Road for 10 miles. Both DEP and PennDoT assumed the unknown chemical was leaked by a gas industry truck, but the truck had not been found nor the substance positively identified when I walked the road that night at 6 PM.  What strange irony that 2 nights earlier, 6 friends and I had walked every step of the 2.5 mile stretch of Wallis Run Road from Rt. 973 to Butternut Grove as we picked up litter on my family’s adopted highway.

On Saturday night, the road was closed, but there were no clean-up crews on the scene. PennDot workers I spoke with guessed the slippery stuff was frack fluid, but admitted they didn’t know for sure. There was no evidence of DEP or gas industry presence during the 2 hours I spent along Wallis Run Road that night.

The front page of Sundays’ Sun Gazette reported that DEP had not yet determined what had spilled onto the 10 miles of roadway that runs along the Loyalsock Creek and her beautiful tributary, Wallis Run. But the agency claimed the unknown substance “presented no environmental concern at this time”.

What does that mean exactly? That the 2 wild turkeys I saw walk thru the fluid and head into the woods will not be affected? That the hundreds of tadpoles I had seen on Thursday night swimming in a roadside rain pool have nothing to fear? That there was no problem posed by the volume of this chemical that was splashed into the soil on the shoulder and carried far and wide by the tires of many southbound cars that were on the road both before and after the closing?  That the eventual migration of chemical residue into nearby waterways is nothing to be concerned about?

Come on DEP – do you really think we’re that stupid? Don’t we deserve better? Could you at least start with the truth? Here’s a hypothetical statement I could have believed:

“We have not pinpointed the source of the spill nor been able to get a positive identification of the chemical along 10 miles of roadway.  Until we have a confirmed lab analysis, and are able to check the MSDS data, we cannot make a statement as to the potential harm or lack thereof that this substance may pose to the environment, to nearby waterways, or to human health.”

Such a statement would have instilled confidence that maybe DEP is doing their under-staffed best to provide some measure of environmental protection.

Back in September, DEP issued a notice of violation to Cabot for two spills in Susquehanna County that polluted wetlands and killed fish in Stevens Creek. The spills involved LGC-35, a lubricant used in the fracking process. Was DEP certain that this same chemical wasn’t spilled on Wallis Run Road?

As crews worked their way past the turn off to my house on Sunday afternoon, a PennDoT flagman told me “We put a drying agent on the spill, swept the residue into garbage bags, and hosed down the road with a chlorine bleach solution. Turns out it was frack oil. It’s all bagged up and the bleach will take care of anything that remained.”

Twenty four hours after the incident, PennDoT’s black garbage bags lined Wallis Run Road, awaiting pick up. Also waiting to be picked up was our little pile of identical PennDot black garbage bags filled with roadside refuse; broken beer bottles, dirty diapers, a tire, candy wrappers, empty packs of cigarettes. I’m glad we had the litter pick-up on Thursday, before the spill.

In truth – these incidents have only just begun. As the gas industry continues its invasion of rural PA, such accidents – already numbering in the thousands – will continue to increase. Along with the accidents, our total toxic exposure and the bioaccumulation of these chemicals in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the creeks we swim in, the wild game we eat, and the grass our children play ball on, will also continue to increase.

According to a recent Nature Conservancy report, gas drilling and development is poised to destroy up to 1.3 million acres of Pennsylvania forest land.  Will our great grandchildren ever know the vast beauty of the Pennsylvania Wilds, the majesty of the Endless Mountains, the cold clear springs where animals, hikers and hunters quench their thirst, the mountain streams where native trout hide in shady pools, the croak of frogs in marshy ponds, and chorus of birdsong in the deep core forest?  What will happen to agriculture and tourism, now PA’s top two sources of income?

The economic burdens and environmental challenges that will rest on the shoulders of future generations remain the true unknowns of the Marcellus Shale.

Responsible Drilling Alliance, Board of Directors
Ralph Kisberg
Jon Bogle
Robbie Cross
Barb Jarmoska
Janie Richardson

Email: info@responsibledrilingalliance.org
Website: http://www.responsibledrillingalliance.org
Address: Responsible Drilling Alliance, Box 502, Williamsport PA 17703

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