The Drakulic Well Pad and Its Potential Impacts on School Aged Children

Updated: Apr 8



What is the Drakulic Well Pad?

The Drakulic Well Pad is the site of three permitted unconventional gas wells (Drakulic 1H, 2H, and 7H) in Level Green, Penn Twp, Westmoreland Co. It is operated by the gas company Apex Energy (PA) LLC. Housed within a close vicinity of residential areas, including Trafford Middle/Elementary School, Level Green Elementary School, and the community’s park, this yields great concern for our children and community. These schools are about a mile from the well site, and due to their location, school-aged children may be exposed to dangerous and volatile chemicals. The well site is within 1000 feet of Route 130, causing even greater issues with having to shut down our community’s main road in the event of a blowout. The threat of this occurring is concerning, and possible, due to the fact that the approval of this site by the DEP did not address Apex Energy’s insufficient emergency response plan, which has been a violation at their other sites, as well.


What is an emergency response plan (ERP)?

ERPs are guidelines that are used to serve as an effective guide for any incidents, such as blowouts, spills, or explosions. These are emergencies that require immediate intervention in the event that community members need to be evacuated, for example. However, Apex Energy has neglected to fulfill the requirements of generating an emergency response plan that can affect such a large residential area like Level Green. 25 Pa Code § 78a.55 requires that “the operator of an unconventional well shall develop and implement an emergency response plan that provides for equipment, procedures, training, and documentation to properly respond to emergencies that threaten human health and safety for each well site …” including “a summary of the risks and hazards to the public within 1/2 mile of the well site and the associated planning assumptions” [1]. Apex Energy has failed to generate an adequate plan, putting Level Green’s residents at risk. As we can see by the work of summer intern Jon Rokicki, the generated wind rose in the figure below indicates that the estimated wind flow would be towards Level Green elementary school, and this wind may contain volatile organic compounds and other carcinogenic chemicals that can negatively affect the health of the children and residents near the schools in the event of any accidents or explosions.



We’ve seen in other cases of fracking incidents that a ½ mile evacuation plan required by the DEP in an ERP wasn’t enough to maintain resident safety in the event of a well pad explosion. In some cases, evacuation has been required within a one-mile radius in Mercer County, Pennsylvania for a blowout [2], and in other extreme events such as a 2.5-mile radius in the case of an accident in Wyoming [3].


What are the dangers of fracking incidents?

The dangers of fracking are very real and risky. Fracking is not a perfect process, and there are many environmental and health-related risks. These environmental dangers include threatening public safety in areas not designed for explosive risks, endangering drinking water, and allowing toxic chemicals to flow into local soil and water [4]. Since 2011, Pennsylvania fracking operators have committed thousands of violations [4], all of which can directly impact human and environmental health. These human health impacts can be very difficult for doctors to figure out what a patient had been exposed to in events of accidents or spills [5], because the chemicals within the fracking process might not be disclosed, or accidents may not be reported since, at the federal level, fracking is not subject to all of the requirements of disclosing all chemicals used in their processes [6]. Over 1,000 of the chemicals used in fracking have been studied and determined to cause cancer, in addition to “severe headaches, asthma symptoms, childhood leukemia, cardiac problems, and birth defects” [5]. Thus, the Natural Resources Defense Council has concluded that there is “legitimate concern that local air pollution may produce adverse effects in individuals who live near the high emitting site or processes” [9].


How can children at schools be affected by fracking?

Natural gas activities have many recognized health effects from air emissions, such as pulmonary, neurologic, reproductive, dermal, and hematologic effects [4]. Volatile organic compounds, which would be present in the event of a fracking incident, contribute recurring harm to all of these systems, especially since the wind rose and topography of the area of where the Drakulic well pad is located indicates that the chemicals from fracking events would be traveling through the air towards Level Green Elementary School and its community’s park. According to FracTracker, children are more vulnerable to the impacts of fracking and incidents arising from fracking due to the fact that there is a higher internal dose of the same chemicals in their bodies compared to adults. Playing on playgrounds and the park will expose them to even greater ambient air pollution [7], [8]. Air pollution, such as the pollution generated by fracking, has been linked to poorer long-term student health and academic performance. Students in areas of high air pollution have been shown to have disproportionate levels of impaired neurological and neurobehavioral function, working memory, and cognitive function compared to areas that are not burdened by the environment’s ambient air [8].


Additionally, “Fractured” is a four-part series of a continual investigation into fracking pollution in southwestern Pennsylvania created by Environmental Health News that highlights the effects of fracking through sincere cases experienced by Pennsylvania residents [9]. They found that children living near fracking wells were at risk of having their air and water containing chemicals like ethylbenzene, styrene, and toluene at “levels up to 91 times as high as the average American.” By tracking five southwestern Pennsylvania families, they also found this chemical exposure lead to “skin, eye, and respiratory issues, gastrointestinal illness, liver problems, neurological issues, immune system, kidney damage, developmental issues, hormone disruption, and increased cancer risk,” as a result of cancer-causing chemicals and biomarkers for harmful chemicals that were found in air and water samples that exceed safety thresholds. Lois Bower-Bjornson and her family, for example, were studied since their family lives within 5 miles of over 20 active fracking wells, and all members had been reported to have 11 harmful industrial chemicals at levels that well exceeded the normal population. With fracking wells continuing to be permitted and operated at the expense of residents, families and their children will be continually exposed to chemicals and activities that threaten their vitality and health. To seek more information regarding these cases or how southwestern PA families have been affected, please seek out the “Fractured” series by Environmental Health News.


Has Apex Energy (PA) LLC ever had any operational violations?

Since 2015, Apex Energy has had 52 inspections resulting in violations, 98 to be exact. Many of these violations address the control and disposal planning on how to store, use, and regulate generated substances at the well site, sediment and stormwater management, incidents causing or threatening pollution, management of residual waste and prohibition against discharge of industrial wastes, and general operator requirements that are in place to protect the environment our commonwealth.


Will Apex Energy (PA) LLC have any accidents in our community?

To simply put it, we don’t know because we can’t predict fracking incidents entirely. Fracking incidents can be spontaneous and sudden, and that is what makes it so dangerous to have these wells near our community. With the company’s violation record, not all measures are being taken care of to the best of their availability to mitigate any issues that may occur at the well site -- or at any other of their unconventional sites. We urge that Apex Energy be held responsible for creating a better response plan by the Pennsylvania DEP. With this lack of emergency response plan, the community is put at great risk in the event of a detrimental accident with no plan as to where to evacuate and what measures need to be taken by the company and residents. The PA Attorney General’s fracking hotline can be contacted at 570-905-2643 or fracking@attorneygeneral.gov in the event that we notice violations or suspicious activity in our community.


Read about the Drakulic case before the Environmental Hearing Board on our blog.


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Resources


[1] Pennsylvania Code (Rules and Regulations), 25 Pa. Code § 78a.55 Control and disposal planning; emergency response for unconventional wells. Oct. 8, 2016. [Online] Available: https://casetext.com/regulation/pennsylvania-code-rules-and-regulations/title-25-environmental-protection/part-i-department-of-environmental-protection/subpart-c-protection-of-natural-resources/article-i-land-resources/chapter-78a-unconventional-wells/subchapter-c-environmental-protection-performance-standards/section-78a55-control-and-disposal-planning-emergency-response-for-unconventional-wells

[2] “Gas Well Fire Prompts Early Morning Evacuations In Mercer Co.” CBSN Pittsburgh. Sept. 6, 2014. [Online] Available: https://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2014/09/06/gas-well-fire-prompts-early-morning-evacuations-in-mercer-co/

[3] S. Gebrekidan and J. Schneyer, “Chesapeake well leaks in Wyoming, residents evacuate,” Reuters. Apr. 25, 2012. [Online] Available: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-chesapeake-natgas-blowout/chesapeake-well-leaks-in-wyoming-residents-evacuate-idUSBRE83O18F20120425

[4] J. Inglis, “Fracking Failures: Oil and Gas Industry Environmental Violations in Pennsylvania and What They Mean for the U.S” Environment America Research & Policy Center. 2015. p. 45. [Online] Available: https://environmentamericacenter.org/sites/environment/files/reports/EA_PA_fracking_scrn.pdf

[5] R. Ingelhart, “Reduce Fracking Health Hazards.” National Resource Defense Defense Council (NRDC). [Online] Available: https://www.nrdc.org/issues/reduce-fracking-health-hazards#:~:text=Fracking%20sites%20release%20a%20toxic,are%20known%20to%20cause%20cancer.

[6] M. Lallanilla “Facts About Fracking,” LiveScience. Feb. 10, 2018. [Online] Available: https://www.livescience.com/34464-what-is-fracking.html

[7] K. Ferrar, “Hydraulic Fracturing Stimulations and Oil Drilling Near California Schools and within School Districts Disproportionately Burdens Hispanic and Non-White Students.” FracTracker Alliance, [Online]. Available: https://stg.fractracker.org/a5ej20sjfwe/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Fractracker_SchoolEnrollmentReport_11.17.14.pdf.

[8] P. Mohai, B.-S. Kweon, S. Lee, and K. Ard, “Air Pollution Around Schools Is Linked To Poorer Student Health And Academic Performance,” Health Aff. (Millwood), vol. 30, no. 5, pp. 852–862, May 2011. [Online] Available: doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2011.0077.

[9] T. Srebotnjak and M. Rotkin-Ellman, “Fracking Fumes: Air Pollution from Hydraulic Fracturing Threatens Public Health and Communities,” p. 12. Dec. 2014. [Online] Available: https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/fracking-air-pollution-IB.pdf

[10] Fractured: the body burning of living near fracking, Environmental Health News . Mar. 01, 2021. https://www.ehn.org/fractured-series-on-fracking-pollution-2650624600.html


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