Op-Ed

Eastern Kentucky water degraded by fracking, mining

George R. Gibson
George R. Gibson

Your editorial regarding environmental non-enforcement in Kentucky addresses the problem of degraded streams rather than the more serious problem of destroyed wells. This is unfortunate, since 80 percent or more ofwells in the Knott County area have been destroyed by coal mining or gas-well fracking.

This percentage came from employees of the Division of Abandoned Mine Lands who were surveying wells. I have informally confirmed this through discussions with many people in the area.

This information, however, is not available from the state Energy and Environment Cabinet because any facts that that reflect badly on energy companies are concealed.

Gas-well fracking and coal mining cause two problems in Eastern Kentucky: first, pockets of gas lie so close to the surface that blasting fractures rocks and allows methane to seep into wells. And fractured rocks can sometimes allow water to disappear from wells.

Fracking has been destroying wells in Knott County since the 1950s. The well of a close neighbor was destroyed in the early 1970s. He was standing on his porch when a gas well was fracked near his home. He felt the explosion and then noticed a cloud of smoke rising from his well. His water thereafter smelled of rotten eggs and could not be used for cooking or drinking.

I have another neighbor who had water so pure people often used it to make coffee. I was visiting about 15 years ago when I heard thumps and saw his curtains shaking. A coal company was removing a mountaintop near his home. His water was subsequently destroyed and, as do many in the area, he now buys bottled water for cooking and drinking.

A friend in Letcher County had his water tested before gas wells were drilled on his property. His water was ruined and the gas company had eight wells drilled but could not find good water. The last well was drilled into an old mine formerly owned by a strip miner who made enough money to buy respectability in Lexington. Plenty of water was found; however, it was polluted by battery acid and used oil that had been dumped in the mine.

Many do not sue energy companies because they lack the resources to hire an attorney. Also, they know that companies routinely deny culpability and have a cadre of lawyers to defend their positions. Those who have sued have found no friends in the Energy and Environment Cabinet, which should be more appropriately titled the Cabinet to Protect Energy Companies.

Water is being supplied from the Carr Fork Lake to some residents in Knott, Letcher and Perry Counties under the auspices of the Division of Abandoned Mine Lands, presumably for wells destroyed by mining before 1982. The lake is ringed by mountains that have been beheaded, so there is drainage of both minerals and silt. The future of this water supply is therefore uncertain.

Many residents cannot afford the expense of paying a plumber to connect to city water and many are using water from abandoned mines. Those who do connect pay a monthly fee for water that was once free. They are paying a permanent energy tax that will be passed on to their descendants.

Meanwhile, energy companies and compliant politicians have ensured the enormous amount of gas flowing from the mountains is minimally taxed.

Some people have installed expensive systems to clean their water; however, a surprising number of people use untested water from abandoned coal mines. A mine on Wolfpen Mountain in Knott County has a plastic pipe from which water perpetually runs. This mine supplies water to most of the houses nearby and residents from other areas can often be seen filling plastic jugs.

An individual concerned about his granddaughter’s health had this water tested a few years ago: the test revealed contamination by e coli. This report was given to health officials in the county who posted a warning at the site. People, however, continued using the water and the sign finally disappeared.

Why has this been allowed to happen? And why has there not been a national outcry about this problem? Politicians have allowed this to happen because they are more interested in serving monied interests than the people, and the routine stereotyping of Appalachians has provided cover for both politicians and energy companies for over 100 years.

George R. Gibson, a musician, lives in Mallie.

At issue: Nov. 10 editorial, “Ky’s environmental non-enforcement; What if the state tried protecting water for a change?”

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