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Pennsylvania water tainted by hydraulic fracturing

Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA

Left: Sherry Vargson, who leased the mineral rights under a portion of her farm to the gas company Chesapeake Energy, illustrates her assertion that methane has leached into her well water by lighting the water on fire as it pours from her kitchen sink in Granville Summit, Pennsylvania, March 8.
Right: Ray Kimble shows the discoloration in a gallon of water he says came from his well in Dimock, Pennsylvania, March 8.

EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the extent of the water problems.

European Pressphoto Agency (EPA) reports:The gas rush in Pennsylvania, created by the controversial drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking—which requires injecting huge amounts of water, sand, and chemicals at high pressure thousands of feet beneath the Earth's surface to extract reserves of natural gas, has brought an economic boom to the state, generating 23,000 jobs, and billions of dollars in state and local tax revenues. It has caused complaints in Northeastern Pennsylvania that the drilling is polluting the water table with dangerous quantities of methane. Some residents now rely on outside water distribution, and are making their protests heard. Yet with the gas industry expected to keep drilling here—as many as 2,500 new wells are expected in Pennsylvania every year—residents opposed to fracking are bracing for a drawn-out fight.

Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA

Ray Kimble fills up a 500 gallon water tank, called a buffalo, with fresh water which he will then distribute daily to neighbors whose water is non-potable near Dimock, Pennsylvania, March 8.

Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA

Support trucks for hydraulic fracturing are seen in the reflection of a car's side mirror outside Dimock, Pennsylvania, March 9. Heavy gas drilling trucks have caused so much damage to local roads that communities are requiring gas companies to bond the roads, and thus reimburse the towns for asphalt repairs.

Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA

Anti-fracking protestors concerned about natural gas development in the Marcellus Shale gather outside the Marcellus Midstream Conference and Exhibition, which promotes the development of infrastructure needed to transport and process natural gas, at the David Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh, Pa., March 20.

Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA

A hydraulic fracturing drill rig at dusk near Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania, March 9. The drilling practice requires injecting huge amounts of water, sand, and chemicals at high pressure thousands of feet beneath the earth's surface to extract reserves of natural gas.

The Marcellus Shale formation that lies under parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia is believed to hold 84 trillion cubic feet (2.38 trillion cubic meters) of recoverable natural gas -- enough to supply the nation's gas-burning electrical plants for 11 years. But health concerns have risen over the drilling practice which many believe have caused air and groundwater pollution in other states where thousands of shale gas wells have been drilled — including Texas, Wyoming, Colorado and Pennsylvania.