A State College-based fracking company recently paid $159,000 to settle water contamination claims brought by a group of families in Butler County. Rex Energy revealed the settlements in bankruptcy documents filed this month.
The documents were part of the company’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which it filed in May. In its “Statement of Financial Affairs,” the company listed the settlements, of between $11,750 and $27,125, which were paid out on April 17.
LISTEN: “Rex Energy Pays $159K to Woodlands Families to Settle Water Claims”
The settlements went to eight families in the Woodlands, a section of Connoquenessing Township, who began complaining about their water quality in early 2011, shortly after Rex began drilling gas wells near their homes.
Several sued Rex. One couple, Janet and Fred McIntyre, claimed in their lawsuit that they experienced severe “vomiting, headaches, and diarrhea,” and said their water “had a strong smell and bad taste, as well as an oily sheen” shortly after Rex began operating in the neighborhood.
Federal and state regulators did not think Rex Energy’s activities were the cause of the problem. Both the Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. EPA examined water tests from before and after drilling, and concluded that oil and gas activities hadn’t damaged the water supplies.
But the residents still complained. For a time, Rex provided them with water, but the company stopped in 2012. Many of the families buy their own water or receive it from a local church that runs a “water-drive” for the local community.
John Stolz, an environmental microbiologist at Duquesne University, tested the water at 150 households in the Woodlands. He found 50 families had “significant changes” either in water quality or quantity since drilling began there. He was retained by the families that sued Rex as an expert witness, but the case never went to court.
He said the water in the Woodlands is still bad.
“It hasn’t changed–they’re still dependent on the volunteer water drive,” he said. “The other families that weren’t part of the case of course didn’t get any compensation whatsoever.”
Stolz said the settlement would help those who received it, but doesn’t pay for a permanent solution. He estimated a publicly-treated water line would cost $1 million to install there.
“The fact of the matter is they still don’t have water and the real issue hasn’t been resolved yet,” Stolz said.
In its bankruptcy filing, the company listed another payment of $139,000 to Joshua and Lisa Meyer of Zelionople, about 15 miles from the Woodlands, to settle their water contamination claim.
In a statement, the company said: “While we cannot comment on the settlement, Rex Energy continues to deny any wrongdoing related to this matter.”
This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WPSU, WITF and WHYY to cover the commonwealth's energy economy.