Maryland prepares lawsuit over PA gas drilling effect on water

PHILADELPHIA Wed May 4, 2011 5:50pm EDT

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PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - The state of Maryland plans to sue the company that operated a gas well that ruptured in Pennsylvania, spilling fluids into a fresh water tributary that eventually flows into the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland's attorney general said on Wednesday.

The well in Bradford County blew out on April 19, spilling "thousands of gallons" of fracking fluids into the Towanda Creek, which pours into the Susquehanna River, Attorney General Douglas Gansler said. The Susquehanna supplies 45 percent of the fresh water to the Chesapeake Bay, he said.

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, is a process of extracting oil and natural gas through pressurized pumping of waste materials, minerals and chemical liquids, sometimes toxic, deep underground during drilling.

Estimates of unproved shale gas resources in the United States have almost doubled following increased drilling in new and existing shale deposits, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in its annual energy outlook at the end of last year. Interest in the sector has continued to pick up this year as oil prices have soared, but concern over environmental risks has also been getting more attention.

A spokeswoman for Maryland attorney general, Raquel Guillory, said it was unclear how much fluid actually leaked into the creek and exactly what is in the hydraulic fracturing fluid.

"It's all a mystery," she said.

She said the attorney general wants to "be part of the conversation" with the operator of the well, Chesapeake Energy, to find the answers. Gansler has notified Chesapeake of the state's intent to sue, although the actual filing awaits a 90-day notice period.

Brian Grove, a Chesapeake spokesman, said in a statement, "Environmental testing conducted during the incident and since has shown limited and very localized environmental impact with no adverse affects on aquatic life in Towanda Creek."

Susquehanna waters were also tested and showed no effects, so "we are confident that there will be zero impact hundreds of miles away," the statement said.

Gansler, saying the Susquehanna supplies drinking water to 6.2 million people, had a different point of view.

"Companies cannot expose citizens to dangerous chemicals that pose serious health risks to the environment and public health," he said. "We are using all resources available to hold Chesapeake Energy accountable for its actions."

Gansler said he will seek an injunction and civil penalties.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)

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