SILT, Colorado - One of the most vocal critics of Garfield County's oil and gas industry reported on Tuesday that her domestic water well has started smelling like "rotten eggs" and that she fears it may have been tainted by nearby gas drilling activities.
"I can't say that I'm surprised," said Beth Strudley on Tuesday, noting that she has been warning her neighbors and everyone who would listen that having a gas rig nearby is not good for local water quality.
Antero Resources has drilled several wells in the area, and has applied for increased well density with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the agency that oversees the industry in the state, prompting an outcry from some of those living nearby.
Industry representatives have downplayed the fears of Strudley and others who believe that the procedure known as hydraulic fracturing, or "frac'ing," poses hazards to water quality in Garfield County.
The procedure involves injecting massive amounts of water, particles of some sort and chemicals into a well bore after it is drilled, to break up the deep rock formations where natural gas deposits are trapped and permit the gas to flow to the surface.
According to the industry, there has never been conclusive evidence that frac'ing has contaminated ground water in areas where drilling activities are conducted.
Strudley told the Post Independent that she and her family went away last weekend, and when they returned they noticed a distinct odor of "rotten eggs" in the house.
"It's worse today than it was on Monday," she said on Tuesday.
Garfield County's oil and gas liaison, Judy Jordan, went out to the Strudley property on Silt Mesa on Tuesday, along with Linda Spry O'Rourke, a Rifle-based field engineer for the COGCC.
The two took samples of the water in the Strudleys' water well, with the hope of determining what might be causing the odor and whether it is related to the gas drilling activities.
Jordan said that, in her experience, there have been no cases of possible well contamination in the eastern part of Garfield County involving odors similar to rotten eggs.
A couple of such cases had occurred in other parts of county, she said, but to date there has been no clear evidence that frac'ing caused contamination of the ground water.
Jordan said the results from the well sampling are not due back for three weeks or more.
Strudley said the family has had "no issues with our water whatsoever" since moving to Silt Mesa four years ago, adding that her family already had begun to install a new water system that would bypass the well and rely on hauled water.
"I'm not having a shower, and my kids are not touching that water," she declared.
She also has complained that the air quality in her neighborhood has deteriorated since Antero began drilling.
The Strudleys' problems have coincided with developments in other parts of the country where gas drilling and community concerns have come into conflict.
Pittsburgh recently became the first city in Pennsylvania to ban natural gas exploration within the city limits.
According to a story in the USA Today, some 362 acres in the city had been leased for drilling, although no drilling had occurred as of Nov. 16.
Pittsburgh sits atop part of the Marcellus Shale, a large rock formation in West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, and drilling companies have been flocking to those states to exploit the vast natural gas reserves under it.
The companies' use of the frac'ing technique has generated opposition from groups in at least two of those states.
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has voiced opposition to the ban, citing its possible negative economic effects on the region's economy, but as of Tuesday it appeared he had not vetoed the legislation.
Earlier this week, the New York State Assembly passed a bill enacting a "time out" on frac'ing for natural gas, in response to rising concern about the practice among environmentalists and others.
The bill suspends the practice of frac'ing until May 15, 2011.
At the same time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has begun a study into whether frac'ing poses hazards to water quality and, by extension, to human health.