Journalism in the Public Interest

A Fracking First in Pennsylvania: Cattle Quarantine

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture issued its first livestock quarantine, keeping 28 beef cattle off the market because they may have been exposed to contaminated wastewater from hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.


(Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection)

Agriculture officials have quarantined 28 beef cattle on a Pennsylvania farm after wastewater from a nearby gas well leaked into a field and came in contact with the animals.

The state Department of Agriculture said the action was its first livestock quarantine related to pollution from natural gas drilling. Although the quarantine was ordered in May, it was announced Thursday.

Carol Johnson, who along with her husband owns the farm in north-central Pennsylvania, said she noticed in early May that fluids pooling in her pasture had killed the grass. She immediately notified the well owner, East Resources Inc.

"You could smell it. The grass was dying," she said. "Something was leaking besides ground water."

The Johnsons' farm sits atop the Marcellus Shale, a layer of rock that lies under swaths of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio. As ProPublica has reported, reports have proliferated of groundwater pollution, spills and other impacts of hydraulic fracturing, a drilling technique that injects massive amounts of water, sand and chemicals underground to break up the formations that hold the gas.

In the Johnsons' case, a mixture of fresh water and wastewater that had been injected into the well leaked from an impoundment pit on the farm, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said. Tests performed for East Resources Inc., found hazardous chemicals and heavy metals, including chloride, barium and strontium. East did not dispute that a leak had occurred.

It's unclear whether the Johnsons' animals drank any of the wastewater. The quarantine was put in place to ensure the animals did not go to market with contamination.

An inspection conducted May 3 by the DEP found two seeps from the impoundment. According to the inspection report, an East Resources employee said a contractor had inspected twice in April and he was unsure why the leak wasn't detected earlier.

The DEP inspector issued four violations for the leak and resulting pollution. One cited East's failure to notify the department of the pollution, saying the agency learned about it from the Johnsons' daughter.

State records show that the well, also on the Johnsons' property, was issued five violations by DEP in January, including one labeled "Improperly lined pit." A February inspection found no violations.

Stephen Rhoads, director of external affairs for East Resources, said the January violations were for spilled drilling mud and were unrelated to the subsequent pit leak.

East Resources said tests of the leaked fluid did not show unhealthy levels of any contaminants and that the quarantine was unnecessary. Rhoads said hydraulic fracturing, called fracking for short, had begun April 2 and that wastewater wasn't impounded until a week later.

Upon being notified May 2, Rhoads said, the company immediately fenced off the Johnsons' pasture and began to empty the impoundment and remove all contaminated soil. The well has since been shut down.

The incident isn't the first report of farm animals being affected by fracking. As we reported more than a year ago, 16 cattle died in Louisiana after drinking a mysterious fluid next to a drilling rig.

The Johnsons' cows have fared better so far.

"They're happy, contented, fat," Johnson said.

Terri Lambert

July 4, 2010, 11:02 a.m.

When are we (the government) going to SERIOUSLY BEGIN the use of AFFORDABLE solar and wind energy sources, that DO NOT contaminate, pollute, kill, or cause diseases.

This natural gas business is scary stuff! I’m so happy to see this article in the news, and yet skeptical that anything will actually change the way our society operates.

The documentary Gasland talks all about this sort of thing. I highly recommend it to everybody.

We have had a similar issue in the Shreveport/Bossier City, LA, area.  Several cows died after drinking fluid that had leaked from a natural gas well site. They died terrible painful deaths as was reported in the Shreveport Times Newspaper.  There are still real questions about that.  People are now finally having real concerns about the damage that may foul all the water around here.  At first it was just happy news about the money the land owners would receive.

You don’t have to be a ‘rocket scientist’ to see that “injecting” under high pressure, all sorts of junk and chemicals deep underground into the water table is wrong - and dangerous - common sense tells you that you are poisioning the aquifer.  Re-arranging in mere minutes what nature took eons to create isn’t beneficial to humankind.

I watched ‘Gasland’ and was amazed, how do they drill all these wells on private property are the people living there selling the rights to these guys?

Our newspaper reports the problem was Stronium in the water. Walked to local health food store and found that they sell Stronium pills! Dose is 650 mg—bet the cows drank a lot less than that.

playing devil’s advocate here-  While it is sad about the cows,  please keep in mind that there are hundreds of thousands of gas wells in the US.  This is just one incident.  Supposedly this was a pit failure.  IF it was monitored correctly it should not have happened.  However, the gas operator will be given hefty fines as a result and they may have to compensate the landowner for the cattle.  So in my mind, I am not that concerned.  If I start to see hundreds of similar claims come in, then I will worried.   

PS- solar and wind energy are not as AFFORDABLE as you think.  Not to mention that solar energy is not nearly as practical in Pennsylvania as it is in Arizona or Texas.

Just watched Gasland yesterday and I am totally pissed off!!!  Something has to be done to stop this sort of thing, we should all be mad as hell and demand and end to fracking asap. There are more important things than money ,we must take care of mother earth or she will take care of us and it won’t be pretty!

I am horrified at the concept of fracking.  It’s fracking unbelievable.  In six short years we are destroying our most important natural resource - water to get “natural” gas out of the ground.  Just how “natural” is it???

Watch gasland and be prepared to be sickened.

Again and again drilling defenders cite that fact that there are ‘hundreds of thousands’ of operational gas wells in the US.  There are hundreds of thousands of CONVENTIONAL gas wells- there are far, far fewer wells using the hydrofracking technique, which has not been in use for long, and unlike conventional drilling uses massive amounts of chemically laced water.  If one looks only at fracking wells, the incidents per number of wells rate starts to look much higher.

Todd from Nevada

July 27, 2010, 8:02 a.m.

You are right that Solar works better South of the Mason Dixon Line than North of it, however if all of the States South of the Line encouraged its use (through tax incentives etc.) it would help offset the amount of fossil fuels needed so that the Northern Residents would get them at a cheaper price.  Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas put up its own solar farm, that helped reduce strain in the community power grid.

As to your complaint that Solar and Wind aren’t cheap, well much of what people are quoted in a conversion for their house is the cost of batteries, unless you are trying to untie yourself from The GRID, then you don’t need batteries.  I’m not saying the switch is free, but you can put a good sized store bought windmill on your property for under $5k; some people were making their own 100 years ago, the technology is still out there and accessible through your net connection, and can be very cheap to do (if you’re the handy type).

You’d think after fracing over 40,000 wells (that’s shallow gas wells and wells targeting the Marcellus formation) in PA and not having a proven water supply issue as a result of those fracs (save for pit failures and spills on the surface of the ground) that people might become to get educated and learn that fracing poses little to no threat to their water, save for human error. If some of you know how get rid of human error please let me know so I can stop making mistakes as well.

If everyone who opposes drilling and fracing targeting the Marcellus formation would simply open their minds and educate themselves on the history of gas well drilling and well stimulation in this state we could go a long way to addressing the hysteria created by some people and begin to effectively address some of the real issues in relation to the drilling and production of this resource along with the others we have at our disposal in our own country.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:

Fracking: Gas Drilling’s Environmental Threat

The promise of abundant natural gas is colliding with fears about water contamination.

The Story So Far

The country’s push to find clean domestic energy has zeroed in on natural gas, but cases of water contamination have raised serious questions about the primary drilling method being used. Vast deposits of natural gas, large enough to supply the country for decades, have brought a drilling boom stretching across 31 states. The drilling technique being used, called hydraulic fracturing, shoots water, sand and toxic chemicals into the ground to break up rock and release the gas.

More »

Get Updates

Our Hottest Stories