Pennsylvania

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Butler County Residents Protest Loss of Water Deliveries

Susan Phillips / StateImpactPA

Skylar Sowatskey holds up a sign at a rally in Butler, Pa.

Kim McEvoy says she wakes up every morning thinking about water.

“Where we’re getting the water, it’s like, how much water do you need today,” says McEvoy. “It’s on your mind all the time —  water, water, water.”

To brush her teeth, she pours bottled tap water that her fiance brings home from work. To flush the toilet, she uses rain water caught in a barrel set up in her backyard. Her laundry room now houses gallon jugs of clean water; she takes her clothes to a laundromat. Her bathtub is full of gallon jugs. To shower, and bathe her 3-year-old daughter, McEvoy walks half a mile to a friend’s hunting cabin, pulling her daughter in a wagon.

“It get’s old really fast,” she says.

McEvoy, who lives in Connoquenessing, Butler County, cannot use her tap water to tend to her plants or clean her house. She can’t give it her two dogs and a rabbit. When she turns on the tap, water starts to run, but as it fills a jug, it soon looks brown and muddy. After filling a jug, the water runs out.

“First it turned black, then brown; now it just runs out.”

McEvoy says her problems began when Rex Energy started drilling for Marcellus gas in a field across from her house about a year ago. At first the company provided her with clean water. But that ended in January, after the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection concluded that Rex Energy’s drilling did not contaminate McEvoy’s water supply, nor the well water of other families who live in an area of Connoquenessing Township called the Woodlands.

A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the agency was “more than thorough” in their investigation, and concluded that drilling activity by Rex Energy did not contaminate her water supply.

McEvoy says both Rex Energy and the DEP told her that her water was safe to drink. Now, she wants to move.

Along with a swing-set, a collection of toys, and a dog-house, a for-sale sign sits in her front yard. But the price for her one-story, two bedroom house has been reduced, because there’s no water. The house is now listed for less than what she owes, and it could be foreclosed upon. But McEvoy says she’ll move anyway, because she’s tired of hauling water.

“I would rather have bad credit than be dying because my water is so bad,” said McEvoy. “It’s crazy you have to choose credit or water. I’m choosing water.”

McEvoy is not alone. Rex Energy stopped deliveries to ten families this week. At a rally in downtown Butler City, about 75 people gathered to donate water to those families. Tom Runyan, a father of a one-month-old baby girl, couldn’t attend the rally but he sent a message read by a participant on the loud speaker.

“My name is Tom Runyan and today is my birthday. I never thought the best present I could receive on my birthday is clean drinking water.”

Runyan and his young family are now staying with relatives. The donated gallon jugs of water were loaded onto a truck while the protestors marched to the Butler headquarters of Rex Energy. Carrying signs that read “You can’t drink money,” and “If you’re frackin’, I’m packin’” the crowd chanted for “clean water now.”

A spokesman for Rex Energy told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that both the company’s investigation, and the Department of Environmental Protection, concluded drilling did not cause the contamination.

“The laboratory results all unequivocally determine that natural gas development has not impacted water quality in the area,” said Rex spokesman Derek Smith.

Several families were able to continue the water deliveries by paying for them on their own.

Marcellus Outreach Butler, a grassroots group formed to protest Marcellus Shale drilling in the area, helped organize the rally. Protecting Our Waters, a Philadelphia-based group, helped get replacement water for the families and has asked the EPA to intervene on their behalf. The EPA recently began delivering water to four families in Dimock, Susquehanna County, after state regulators told Cabot Oil and Gas they were free to stop water deliveries.

Correction: An earlier version of this piece named Marcellus Outreach Butler as the group who organized the water deliveries and sent a request to the EPA. Protecting Our Waters was also instrumental.

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