(NEW YORK) -- Actor Mark Ruffalo and film director Josh Fox denounced a controversial form of gas drilling Tuesday morning at New York's City Hall, where they collected water to bring to 11 Pennsylvania families whose tap water is flammable.
Their well water has been contaminated since 2008, when the Houston-based Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. leased their land to use for hydraulic fracturing, or hydro-fracking. The process extracts natural gas by drilling more than a mile into the earth and pumping a mixture of water, sand and chemicals to open up fissures in the stone through which it can escape.
When one resident's well exploded several months ago, the state investigated and found that faulty casings in the drilling well had caused methane to seep into local drinking wells.
In addition to methane, the water contains unsafe quantities of heavy metals, radioactive material and toxic chemicals such as ethylene glycol, also known as antifreeze. Dimock Township residents complained of health problems after drinking and bathing in the water, and so the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PDEP) has forced Cabot to deliver clean water to the affected families for the past three years. The PDEP also planned the construction of a water pipe line that would deliver clean water to the region.
But when Thomas Corbett was sworn in as governor in January 2011, things changed. The pipeline construction was stopped, and the PDEP approved a decision to have Cabot stop delivering clean water to the 11 families in Dimock.
Corbett received $1.6 million in campaign funds from the oil and gas industry, according to Common Cause PA. The industry spent $747 million on Pennsylvania state and Congressional elected officials.
"All I can say is corrupt politics, corrupt politicians," Ruffalo said. "It's pretty fishy. The DEP was building a pipeline that Cabot was going to have to pay for to the tune of $12 million. For $1.6 million, Cabot bought off Corbett, and as soon as he came into office, he killed the pipeline..."
The governor's office was not immediately available to comment, but PDEP head Mike Krancer wrote in a letter to the editor of Public Opinion Online, "The real issue here is not safety; it's about a very vocal minority of Dimock residents who continue to demand that taxpayers should foot the bill for a nearly $12 million public water line along Route 29 to serve about a dozen homes. This issue has, and continues to, pit neighbor against neighbor in Dimock."
Fox, whom Bloomberg News called the "Paul Revere of fracking," decided to direct the documentary Gasland after receiving an offer from a natural gas company in 2008 to lease his family's land in Milanville, Pa., for $100,000. Fox was inspired to travel to more than 20 U.S. states -- not to mention Australia, Africa and the U.K. -- to interview people about the effects of fracking. He's now working on a sequel, which will be released in June 2012.
When asked why the PDEP allowed Cabot to stop delivering clean water to the families in Dimock, Fox said, "There's a very simple answer to that: corruption, incompetence or both. This is no way, shape or form a scientific decision. There is absolutely no basis in science or fact. It is purely political. It is unconstitutional. Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution states that Pennsylvania citizens have a right to clean air and clean water."
But PDEP officials say their actions are not unconstitutional, and that Cabot satisfied the requirements outlined in their agreement before they stopped providing water to the 11 families.
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