Pennsylvania Families Sue Southwestern Energy on Shale Drilling

Thirteen families in northeastern Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit against Southwestern Energy Co. alleging that the company’s drilling for natural gas has contaminated drinking water.

Southwestern spoiled water wells by hydraulic fracturing, a process that uses blasts of water and chemicals to free natural gas from shale rock, according to the complaint filed yesterday in the civil division of the Court of Common Pleas of Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. The company used fracturing in October 2008 on a gas well in Lenox Township, Pennsylvania, according to Mark Boling, Southwestern’s general counsel.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is studying the drilling technique, known as fracking, to determine its effect on underground water supplies. Gas from shale may produce 50 percent of the U.S. gas supply by 2035, up from 20 percent today, according to IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates.

“We actually had the chemicals associated with fracking fluids leaking into wells,” Peter Cambs, an attorney representing the families, said in an interview. “Something was going on related to the fracking process.”

Southwestern tested water wells in the area, about 27 miles (43 kilometers) north of Scranton, and found no contamination that could be linked to its drilling, Boling said.

“From our testing, we did not find anything that would lead one to believe that it’s from our drilling operations,” Boling said in an interview. “Part of our investigation is going to be trying to find out what prior uses were on the property to see if there was some industrial activity.”

Southwestern, based in Houston, is the largest natural-gas producer in the Fayetteville Shale formation in Arkansas.

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