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Cattle may have drunk drill water

State quarantines cattle in Tioga County after exposure to drilling wastewater.

By Steve
Staff Writer

WELLSBORO – The state Department of Agriculture on Thursday announced that it quarantined cattle on a Tioga County farm after it was discovered that they might have ingested drilling wastewater from a nearby Marcellus Shale natural gas well.

Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said in a press release the quarantine was warranted to protect the public from eating potentially contaminated beef.

“Cattle are drawn to the taste of salty water,” Redding said. “Drilling wastewater has high salinity levels, but it also contains dangerous chemicals and metals. We took this precaution in order to protect the public from consuming any of this potentially contaminated product.”

Redding said 28 head of cattle were included in the quarantine, including 16 cows, four heifers and eight calves. The cattle were out to pasture in late April and early May when a drilling wastewater pit on the farm of Don and Carol Johnson leaked, sending the contaminated water into an adjacent field, where it pooled.

The holding pond was collecting flowback water from the hydraulic fracturing process on a well being drilled by East Resources Inc.

Grass was killed in a roughly 30-foot-by-40-foot area where the wastewater pooled. Although no cows were seen drinking the wastewater, tracks were found throughout the pool, and the cattle had access to it for at least three days until the gas company erected a snow fence around it.

Testing showed the wastewater contained chloride, iron, sulfate, barium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, sodium, strontium and calcium. Redding said the main element of concern is the heavy metal strontium, which can be toxic to humans, especially children.

The secretary said the quarantine will follow guidelines from the Food Animal Residue Avoidance and Depletion Program, which recommends holding the animals from the food chain based on their stages of development – six months for adult animals, eight months for calves exposed in utero and two years for growing calves.

None of the animals appeared sick, department spokesman Justin Fleming said.

In response to the leak, the state Department of Environmental Protection issued a notice of violation to East Resources and required further sampling and site remediation. DEP is evaluating a final cleanup report and continues investigating drill site operations and circumstances surrounding the leak.

An East Resources spokesman did not return a call seeking comment.

Carol Johnson said East Resources personnel were on-scene within an hour of being alerted to the problem and did “everything they could possibly do.” They found that the leak occurred because of a 2-foot tear in the pit liner. The contaminated soil was removed and disposed of at a facility in Ohio, she said.

DEP is putting together a new list of chemicals found in hydraulic fracturing fluids. A list the department released to The Associated Press on Monday contained not only chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing – a process used to break up the shale formation so the natural gas is released – but also all chemicals found on well-drilling sites.

Copyright: Times Leader