Hydraulic fracturing (known as fracking) is a controversial drilling process used to extract natural gas from the rich and largely untapped reserves that run from New York State down through Pennsylvania and as far south as Texas.
Water is flushed down the pipeline fracturing the rock and forcing gas up a return line. Unfortunately, it can also force other gases into the soil and nearby ground water. "We are talking about benzene, toluene, and other contaminates," says attorney Marc Bern whose firm Napoli, Bern, Ripka & Associates represents the families.
"Some of the contaminants are known carcinogens and everyone there has a serious fear of cancer," says Bern.
"The families in Horseheads may not be able to live in their homes for as a long as they would have liked," says Bern. "I don't know who would buy those homes; maybe someone would want it for a natural gas lease or something of that nature."
According to the 45-page statement of claim, representatives of the Anschutz Exploration Corporation went knocking on doors in Horseheads two years ago before the drilling began and told homeowners that they "would never know anything was happening and everything would be the same after the gas wells were drilled."
Six months after Anschutz drilled two 10,000 foot deep wells in February 2010, families living in close proximity to the wells discovered their drinking water was contaminated with combustible gases like propane and dissolved methane, and other toxins.
The Horseheads families can no longer use their well water for drinking, cooking or bathing.
Napoli, Bern, Ripka & Associates is also representing clients in fracking-related water contamination suits in several states, including people in the town of Dimock, Pennsylvania, featured in a documentary called Gasland, showing what can happen when you hold a match to a jug of water from the tap in Dimock.
"The water is so contaminated at times that you can light a match and the water will flare!" says an amazed Bern who has fought his fair share of environmental lawsuits.
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"This is a potentially fantastic goldmine right in the US," says Bern. "The problem with all these environmental disasters, whether you are talking about big oil companies, or gas or oil companies, is they have no conscience, and environmental disasters can and do occur way too frequently."
Marc Bern is a senior partner with the firm of Napoli, Bern, Ripka & Associates. The firm handles catastrophic injury cases, pharmaceutical product liability and has acted for clients in cases involving Redux, Ephedra, Rezulin and Baycol. He has also been successful in litigating on behalf of clients affected by MTBE gasoline contamination and PCBs.