Curious case of cow deaths in southwest PA

Cows as an indicator species?


Cow deaths have couple questioning water quality

By Christie Campbell, Staff Writer,
This article has been read 791 times.
DAISYTOWN – In the spring of 2008 after a fourth calf was born blind and died soon after birth, Terry Greenwood took the unusual step of purchasing a deep freezer for the carcass.  And there the carcass remains, waiting for someone to tell Greenwood what killed it.

Could it be, as a representative from the state Department of Environmental Protection told him, bad “farmer’s luck?” Or could it be, contrary to the industry’s claims, that something used in the process of drilling for natural gas contributed to the animal’s death?

Terry and his wife, Kathy, did not own the gas rights to their property in West Pike Run Township. Those were sold in 1921, allowing Dominion Exploration and Production Inc. of Indiana, Pa., to drill on their farm.

In October 2007, the company received its permit from DEP to drill a shallow vertical well – not in the Marcellus Shale – and operations began in December.

A month later, as Kathy Greenwood began filling a pan with water to make spaghetti, she noticed the water was cloudy. Her husband reported it to the DEP the following day, and an inspector was immediately sent to the farm.

What the DEP found were higher than normal levels of iron and manganese in their drinking water. In an order dated March 27, 2008, the DEP required Dominion to drill a new drinking well for the Greenwoods and restore a water supply for farm operations.

Dan Donovan, a spokesman for Dominion, said the Greenwoods did not have a water quality issue, but one of quantity. In addition to drilling the couple a new drinking well, Dominion has submitted a plan to the DEP to provide a water trough for cattle, he said. Currently, the company is paying to have a 2,000-gallon water buffalo on the property filled every four days to provide the farm’s 35 head of cattle with water.

The Greenwoods had four separate water sources on their property: a well and spring for the house and a spring and pond for cattle. While water for human consumption is tested prior to drilling, other sources are not, leaving Greenwood to wonder whether hydraulic fracturing chemicals leached into a farm pond where his cows drank.

The Greenwoods lost 10 cows that year, including the four born blind and one born with a cleft palate.

Donovan said the DEP found high levels of cow manure in the pond. Nothing in the drilling process contaminated the pond, he said.  A DEP spokeswoman was unable to provide information on the pond testing. Some diseases, such as bovine virus diarrhea, can affect fetal calves during the gestational period, causing a number of birth defects, including ocular ones.

Greenwood has since fenced off the pond so his livestock can no longer drink from it, and the couple do not drink from their new water well for fear it may be contaminated.   Greenwood receives some royalties from the gas drilling on his property but says it does not make up for what he has lost.   “All this did was cost me money,” Greenwood said. “We just went backward.”