Crystal Stroud is a 29-year-old hairdresser who lives in Marcellus Shale country, on a rural road in Bradford County, Pa., hard by a stream, across from a farm.
In February, a company called Chief Oil and Gas began drilling a natural gas well about 1,200 feet from her house. In March, she says, she started noticing clumps of hair falling out in the shower.
She was at the outset of an ordeal that raises questions as to whether natural gas drilling courts risks of water contamination that go beyond the process known as "fracking."
About a week after the hair in the shower, Stroud called to her husband in a panic:
"I said ... oh my God there's something wrong and he put his hand to my chest and he said I can feel it, it's beating hard. I said I feel like I'm out of breath constantly, when I shop, like grocery shopping. Everyone said it sounds like anxiety attacks."
Stroud's doctor prescribed Zoloft, an anti-anxiety medication.
"So after taking the Zoloft for three days, I still had all of the symptoms, the shortness of breath, the heart racing," said Stroud. "Then my hands began to tremble." Stroud says her speech also was slurred.
A benchmark test
Like many in her area, Stroud was aware of the concerns about hydrofracturing, or fracking. In that process, a solution of water, sand and chemicals is shot into a deep well to help release the gas.
When she saw the drill rig go up near her house, she had her well water sent for testing. She wanted to get a baseline, in case fracking ended up polluting her water. But Stroud's health issues began before the well near her house had ever been fracked.
On April 11, she got a surprising call from the lab.
The woman calling said the water tests revealed "major concerns."
"I said well what do you mean major concerns? And she said 'well you have elevated levels of barium, manganese, lead, and gross alpha, gross beta, which are radiological materials,'" said Stroud.
Stroud mentioned her symptoms and the caller said barium had been known to cause similar symptoms.
"It is a public health concern for example she needed to know the barium in her water was really really high," said Carrie Davis, who works for Benchmark Analytics, the lab that Stroud used to test her water.
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The pressure is now on the Delaware River Basin Commission to decide whether to allow drilling in the area. Now, the Commission won’t let drills anywhere near the basin, which provides drinking water for more than 15 million people, including all of Philadelphia.
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