“Fresh, frizzy…fracked”: What else must fracked Wyoming homeowners do to get help?


Meet Louis Meeks — a longtime landowner outside the picturesque rural community of Pavillion, Wyoming. The rolling hillsides here have hosted natural gas wells for decades, but the pace of activity has increased in recent years with the growth of the drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Something else has increased over the last couple of years — nasty problems that Meeks blames on drilling.

Meeks says his tap water now smells like diesel fuel. And his efforts to clean up his water supply over time have been to no avail. He won’t let his granddaughter take baths or wash her clothes when she comes to his home. In frustration, Meeks finally printed up business cards that show a glass of tap water with the words “Fresh, fizzy…fracked.”  He wants them out to anyone and everyone who will listen.

No, Louis Meeks is not imagining things. To the contrary, a draft report by scientists working for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, published in December, confirmed on paper what the residents in Pavillion already knew — that groundwater here has been contaminated by hazardous chemicals that are linked to fracking and the production of natural gas. It was a very significant finding, and widely reported: It was the first time that federal regulators claimed to have established a link between fracking and significant contamination.

But if you think that the authorities pounced into action to help out the beleaguered residents of a small Wyoming town…then you haven’t been paying attention to how the energy giants and their governmental cronies conduct business in this country. Instead, the overriding response to this major EPA finding has been obfuscation and delay.

The state’s Republican governor Matt Mead, a close ally of the drilling cartel, cried foul, and so did industry leaders. Rather than acknowledge the results from environmental experts, they’ve successfully demanded another battery of tests. And so now more samples are being collected by the U.S. Geological Survey, and the EPA has been sent back to carry out new tests as well.

And what is being done in the interim to help out folks whose bathwater smells like a gas station and don’t want to drink what comes out from their tap? The state of Wyoming did allocate $750,000 for residents of the area to obtain water from cisterns. But get this: They still want residents to pay their own money to get the water hauled from the town to their homes — which could cost them $150 a month, or more. What an outrage! Paying their own money, to deal with an environmental mess that they had nothing to do with.

Listen to what one of them had to say:

I’d like to have the industry held accountable for once,” said Jeff Locker, a hay and barley farmer who said that his well water had gone bad around the mid-’90s and that the contaminants had contributed to his wife’s neuropathy. “We’ve got scientific proof. And they’re still turning their back on us. They expect us to pay between $100 and $200 for something we didn’t cause. It gets under my skin.”

It gets under my skin, too. I read about this in the New York Times this weekend, and it made me furious. The more evidence that piles about about the dangers of fracking, the less anybody wants to take responsibility. In Wyoming, the company that took over the gas leases in 2004, Encana, is operating about 125 wells in the area. It’s providing jugs of water for about 20 families but also insists that bad water doesn’t come from drilling and even if it did, the problems date back to before their company arrived on the scene.

This is what we’re seeing again and again — the oil-and-gas lobby doing whatever it can to confuse the issue and deny responsibility. A few weeks ago, industry officials were crowing about a report from researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo which they claimed proved that has gas drilling was getting safer and causing fewer problems. Then other experts looked at what the data really showed: The reality was that the report had not been peer-reviewed as the university had claimed, that the authors had a history of close ties to the oil-and-gas industry, and that the data had been distorted. In fact, environmental violations at fracking sites are on the increase. Amazing. This is the exact same junk science we saw here in Louisiana, where the oil-and-gas lobby tried to strip landowners of their right to sue, armed with an LSU report on economic impacts that a top expert found was “nonsense” riddled with “rookie errors.”

Look, when residents who live atop the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania can light their tap water on fire, and when folks can’t even drink or bathe in the murky water coming up from their wells, it shouldn’t have to take years and years of research and testing for society to acknowledge that something is very, very wrong. The sickening part is that our elected officials and the bureaucrats who work for them aren’t racing to do right by these people. This is what I’ve found personally in more than 20 years as a lawyer taking on — and defeating — Big Oil again and again, that too many times our legal system is the only recourse. The people around Pavillion, Wyo., need a good lawyer, one who will order testing by the best independent environmental experts as soon as possible — because they can no longer depend on government to find the truth for them.

Right now, there’s way too many folks out there like Louis Meeks — fresh, fizzy and fracked. The question is why aren’t we doing more about it.

To read the New York Times article about how pollution from fracking has disrupted a Wyoming community: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/02/us/in-land-of-hydraulic-fracturing-a-battle-over-water-pollution.html

Here’s more information about the distorted SUNY-Buffalo fracking studhttp://ecowatch.org/2012/university-of-buffalo-distorts-the-facts-about-fracking-2/y:

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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