Mr. Greenwood was one of the first farmers to protest the encroachment of oil drilling companies during the state’s shale gas rush. It turns out that southwestern Pennsylvania sits atop one of the largest natural gas reservoirs in the world, estimated to be second only to the Pars field in the Persian Gulf.
Greenwood’s property was leased for oil drilling by a prior owner in 1921. In 2008, he informed state officials that his water had turned brown and tasted salty. After an investigation, the state Department of Environmental Protection discovered that Dominion Energy, the company that was fracking a shallow well on Greenwood’s cattle ranch, had polluted Greenwood’s water supply the year before.
Dominion was ordered to temporarily supply the Greenwood family with drinking water.
But that was not the end of Greenwood’s fracking troubles. As he explained to filmmaker Josh Fox, he would call the state again in 2009 when his cattle began drinking the runoff from the drilling site:
“They was drilling and all the water was running into the field and the cattle was up there right in their pasture drinking the water. And I called DEP and I says ‘they [the cows] shouldn’t be drinking that water,’ I said, ‘what’s in that water?’ Cause I didn’t know nothing about all this at first, and they said ‘there’s nothing wrong with it.’ My cows started having calves, there was 18 cows. Calves was starting to die. You know, 18 cows that were having calves, I lost 10 of them.”
The Department of Energy told Greenwood, “That’s a farmer’s luck.”
The state said the deaths were likely caused by e. coli in the pond, but in 18 years Greenwood had never had that problem before. In 2011, of Greenwoods’ thirteen remaining cows, not a single one gave birth to a live calf.
Veterinarian Michelle Bamberger wrote a peer-reviewed report on fracking water’s effect on livestock in 2012. As he explains, “Cattle that have been exposed to wastewater (flowback and/or produced water) or affected well or pond water may have trouble breeding. Of the seven cattle farms studied in the most detail, 50 percent of the herd, on average, was affected by death and failure of survivors to breed.”
Greenwood was one of many residents to be stonewalled by the Pennsylvania government. Last week, Dr. Eli Avila, the state’s former health secretary, said Pennsylvania has neglected health impact studies. Retired state health officials have also come forward, claiming that residents who called in with fracking-related problems or concerned were ignored as a rule.
“We were absolutely not allowed to talk to them,” Tammi Stuck, a former Fayette County community health nurse, told StateImpact.
Five of the state’s leading environmental groups are calling for a full investigation into Pennsylvania’s actions around natural gas drilling complaints.