Range denies intentionally providing inaccurate water testing results by Linda Metz, January 29, 2013, Observer Reporter
Range Resources denied Tuesday it intentionally provided inaccurate water testing results to three Amwell Township families who attribute their health problems to drilling activity near their homes. Washington County President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca heard preliminary objections in the 182-page lawsuit that was filed by attorneys John and Kendra Smith on behalf of Stacey, Harley and Paige Haney; Beth, John and Ashley Voyles; and Loren and Grace Kiskadden. The lawsuit claims Range knew its Marcellus Shale gas development operation on the Yeager farm on McAdams Road in Amwell Township had contaminated the groundwater with chemicals from a leaking drilling waste pit and a 3 million-gallon hydraulic fracturing fluid flowback impoundment as early as November 2010. In addition to Range, the lawsuit names Gateway Engineers, New Dominion Construction, Red Oak Water Transfer, Terrafix Environmental Technology, SKAPS Industries, Engineered Synthetic Products Inc., Microbac Laboratories, Multi-Chem Group, Universal Well Services, Halliburton Energy Services, Saxon Drilling, Highland Environmental, EAP Industries, Test America and engineers Carla Suszowki and Scott Rusmisel. The three families, who live below the drilling site, claim they suffer a multitude of health problems, including nosebleeds, headaches and dizziness, skin rashes, stomachaches, ear infections, nausea, numbness in extremities, loss of sense of smell and bone pain.
Range has argued the plaintiffs have offered no proof their illnesses are linked to the drilling activity. The plaintiffs claim Range did not provide them full water sampling results, which would have shown an array of contaminants related to their illnesses. According to Kendra Smith, Range purposely omitted certain findings from the water testing results that showed contamination. She said the drilling company misrepresented the results even though it knew that the property owners were frantically trying to find the cause of their illnesses. “It was the plaintiffs’ own water; they had the opportunity to have their water sampled,” said Range attorney Bruce Rende, referring to a case wherein a woman sued her husband over a ring he had given her. The case was thrown out by the court after it was determined the woman could have personally had the ring tested to confirm its authenticity, rather than accept her husband’s word. Rende also contended that certain plaintiffs should not be listed on the lawsuit because there were no direct dealings between them and Range. For example, Rende pointed out Range had direct contact only with Stacey Haney, and not her two minor children, and therefore the children should not be named as plaintiffs. The same was true for John and Ashley Voyles and Grace Kiskadden, he said. Kendra Smith responded by pointing out that all of those people drank water from the well that Range repeatedly denied contained contaminants.
Rende also argued the property owners were not provided the test results directly from Range but by the Department of Environmental Protection, and that Range should, therefore, not be accused of providing fraudulent or misrepresentative information. However, the plaintiffs contend Range presented DEP only with the results that it wanted to be released and did not provide full findings from Test America. The plaintiffs argue further that Test America had the duty to report the correct results once it learned that Range allegedly had not reported them all under the Environmental Accreditation Act. “Test America told the Voyles their water was fine,” argued Kendra Smith. “They allowed Range to report inaccurate results to people who have no idea of what to look for.”
The plaintiffs also claim Range conspired with all of the named contractors to keep the alleged contamination secret, covering up design flaws by engineers and water leakage at the site. O’Dell Seneca is expected to rule on the preliminary objections within 20 days and to decide if all parties should remain included in the lawsuit. It was this case that prompted state Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, to call upon state and federal enforcement agencies to investigate “alleged misconduct and fraud” following a sworn deposition given in the matter by a DEP Bureau of Laboratories director. Last week, White introduced legislation that would require DEP to disclose full and complete testing results, including raw data and documentation, of any environmental tests conducted on a landowner’s or leaseholder’s property in Pennsylvania.