An environmental tort lawsuit has been filed against a Texas energy company by more than a dozen Pennsylvania families who claim the company contaminated their water supply by pumping tons of chemicals into the ground to get at natural gas deposits, a process known as hydraulic fracturing or hydro fracking.
The complaint was filed on Tuesday in the Court of Common Pleases of Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, on behalf of 13 families who live in the county. Southwest Energy Production Company, and its parent company, Southwestern Energy Company, which are both based in Houston, Texas, are named as defendants.
According to the lawsuit, Southwest Energy Production Company has contaminated water supplies by using a gas mining method known as hydraulic fracturing in the Price #1 Well in Lenox Township. The mining has resulted in chemicals loaded with heavy metals and carcinogens infiltrating the ground water and residents’ well water, the lawsuit claims.
Hydro fracking is a controversial process used by energy companies to extract hard-to-reach pockets of natural gas, usually in coalbeds. A soup of chemicals and water are injected into the ground at high pressure, causing the bedrock that is trapping the gas to fracture and providing access to the gas. The fluid is then pumped back out. Environmental groups and residents who live around hydraulic fracturing wells have long claimed that it causes groundwater contamination, which can result in chemicals in families’ drinking water. However, energy companies have maintained that the process is safe.
The lawsuit filed in Susquehanna claims that at least one person has gotten ill and suffered what appears to be neurological damage consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals. Some residents have also attempted to show that their well water is being contaminated by gas and other pollutants from the well by lighting their tap water on fire in YouTube videos.
The lawsuit claims that the hydraulic fracturing operation, which began in 2008, uses a mix of chemicals that includes diesel fuel, lubricating materials and chemicals that contain barium, manganese and strontium. It also claims that the plaintiffs have had to turn to other drinking water sources for their safety.
Plaintiffs claim to have lost property value, enjoyment of their property and quality of life. The plaintiffs are seeking a preliminary and permanent injunction to stop drilling operations, in addition to compensatory damages, punitive damages and seek to have the company pay for their future health monitoring.