Sunday, February 14, 2010

Oil and gas drilling's threat to our drinking water is local, national debate

By Michael Scott
February 14, 2010, 10:08AM

GRANGER TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- Sandy Mangan draws a small glass of water from her kitchen faucet. It stinks vaguely of methane and small bubbles slip up the side of the cup.

She looks almost as if she is about to gulp down a nasty soft drink. But the Mangans don't drink their tainted tap water anymore.

They haven't since Sept. 29, 2008 -- the day a Mahoning County company was drilling a gas well in a park near their State Road home.

They say their well went temporarily dry, then returned at lower pressure five days later -- murky, salty, bubbly and smelly.

"We always had beautiful water, then we lost water completely the day they drilled -- and when it came back it was like this," Mark Mangan said. "We believe the drilling down the street caused it."

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources disagrees.

The ODNR Division of Mineral Resources Management, charged with investigating complaints about the hundreds of oil and gas wells drilled in the state each year, concluded that Wildcat Drilling of Youngstown did not cause the Mangan's well woes.

A company spokesman said that he was not even aware of the family's situation.

The ODNR Report on the Mangan water well case

State officials said the Mangans get their underground water from the opposite direction as a pair of wells drilled in Allardale Park and that the loss of water was more likely to mild drought conditions in parts of Ohio that year.

The state report suggests that gas bubbles in the family's water may be coming from an old abandoned well across the street.

"There is absolutely no evidence of a link between the drilling and their well problems," said Rick Simmers, field enforcement manager for the division's Uniontown office. "We also found that drilling rig itself was about 150 feet lower in elevation than their well."

The couple's case illustrates a national debate over the safety of drilling and begs a vital question: Does oil and gas well drilling really threaten our drinking water?