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Family says gas drilling turning paradise home into nightmare

Channel 4 Action News’ Jim Parsons investigates in Fayette County

UPDATED 8:35 PM EDT Mar 29, 2013

FAYETTE COUNTY, Pa. —The Headley family built their house a few years ago, just before the gas-drilling boom hit. They had a chance to buy the gas rights but chose not to. Now, they wish they had, because they’re sharing their 115-acre farm with the Marcellus Shale industry.

A puddle along a country road in southern Fayette County is a natural spring, an artesian well, but it’s not the spring that’s making it bubble.

David Headley told Action News investigator Jim Parsons that he wasn’t really sure when he first noticed it, but he said, “We’ve seen it bubbling now for the last couple of years.”

About the same time, nearby gas wells were drilled on Headley’s property. He invited Parsons to do what he did when he first saw the bubbles: flick a lighter.

“Is that really water burning?” Parsons asked Headley.

When Headley placed a funnel over the bubbles, the flame stayed lit.

“The horses used to drink out of this spring, and the deer and the coon. All those animals have since left. Nothing will drink out of it. There’s not a footprint around this well at all,” said Headley.

But that’s not what angers Headley the most.

About 150 yards from his home, the cap on a natural gas tank popped up, and a gas cloud began pouring out. Headley recorded the incident on video from inside his house.

“We could see from the house. It was quite visible what was going on,” Headley told Parsons. Within minutes, the valley was filled with a fog from the fumes, and Headley’s 5-year-old son was outside riding around on his four-wheeler.

“They did it with your son right there?” Parsons asked.

“Oh yes, they don’t have any mercy,” Headley said.

Headley told Parsons that he ran out and confronted the worker.

“I demanded he stop. I said, ‘I know what’s in that stuff, and I don’t want my kids breathing it. You need to stop,’ and he wouldn’t stop, of course,” said Headley.

“You can’t stop them. It’s a producing well. They tell us they’re allowed to pollute. You can’t stop them. They laugh at you,” his wife, Linda Headley, told Parsons.

When David Headley confronted them, the well workers called state police. They then put a lock on the gate that allows Headley access to his driveway.

“This is my personal property, not Atlas’ property. You don’t have a right-of-way to this gate. Your right-of-way isn’t even here,” said David Headley. “What am I supposed to do if I need in here now? The gate belongs to me. It doesn’t belong to you.”

It wasn’t his first run-in with gas drillers, either. He almost got arrested last year for confronting them while carrying a shotgun.

“This has just been a nightmare. We bought this place as a paradise, a quiet place to raise our kids away from the hustle and bustle — someplace they could ride their horses and four-wheelers and enjoy living on a farm — and we didn’t know we were buying an industrial park,” said David Headley.

The state Department of Environmental Protection said flammable spring water at the Headley farm is the result of methane migration from an old coal seam and not gas well drilling.

The Headleys emphasized the problem first surfaced after gas wells were drilled on their property.

A representative for Atlas Energy said the company has since given the Headleys a key to the lock on their gate.

The company said the chemical release from the well tank was within allowable limits, but a DEP representative told Parsons that is still being investigated.

Atlas Energy issued the following bullet points to Channel 4 Action News in a company statement:

-We can confirm that there are locks on the gates and that the landowner has been given a key to them. These locks are placed in order to ensure that only authorized company representatives and the landowner can safely access the site.

-The methane occurrence in question was previously studied by the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and found to be sourced from a coal seam that predates the landowner’s occupancy of the site and is not from any other source. This information can be confirmed with the Pittsburgh regional office of the DEP.

-The release described by the landowner is well within established emission parameters set by applicable state regulations and is a standard maintenance procedure to ensure safe operations. On Wednesday (3/27), state DEP regulators came to the site to discuss the release process and confirmed that it conforms to applicable regulatory requirements and that the release was within established emission parameters. Again, you may contact the Pittsburgh regional office of the DEP to confirm this information.

(PHOTOS) Fire Water: Down on the Farm

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Bubbles coming up from a once popular pond with animals gets the attention of Action News’ Investigator Jim Parsons….

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