Triple Divide: The Judys
A Look at Drill Waste Pits and Groundwaterby Melissa Troutman, Laurel Dammann, and Joshua Pribanic
“It was 2007, and my water well was fine. I mean, I didn’t have any problem with it. I was cooking, drinking, bathing with it and everything else. Well, then after they drilled I thought it was kind of…it didn’t taste like it did before.” – Judy
During the filming of Triple Divide, journalists, filmmakers, and Public Herald founders Melissa Troutman and Joshua Pribanic met Judy, a Pennsylvania resident and neighbor to a Marcellus shale natural gas well pad.
In 2007, Guardian Exploration, LLC drilled for natural gas 450 feet from Judy’s home.
The process of drilling for natural gas produces waste materials brought up from the subsurface mixed with drilling and hydraulic fracturing fluids. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) describes these wastes as “radioactive”:
Radioactive wastes from oil and gas drilling take the form of produced water, drilling mud, sludge, slimes, or evaporation ponds and pits. It can also concentrate in the mineral scales that form in pipes (pipe scale), storage tanks, or other extraction equipment. Radionuclides in these wastes are primarily radium-226, radium-228, and radon gas. The radon is released to the atmosphere, while the produced water and mud containing radium are placed in ponds or pits for evaporation, re-use, or recovery.Some drilling companies, like Guardian Exploration, have collected and stored its waste in what’s known as a waste pit or drill pit, constructed with a liner meant to create an impermeable barrier between the waste and soil or groundwater.
In Pennsylvania, companies can obtain permission to bury their waste onsite from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which governs oil and gas operations while charged with preserving the natural environment. In August 2007, Guardian applied to bury their waste pit about 450 feet from Judy’s home, but DEP denied the application that same month because the pit would be “too close to water supply” — a.k.a. Judy’s. Read the rest of the story on the Kaple Well..