Thursday, November 17, 2022

Washington County Family Lawsuit Alleges Shale Gas Company Violated The Terms Of Their Lease By Endangering Their Health, Contaminating Their Water Supply And Not Protecting Their Land

On October 28, the owner of a Washington County farm-- Bryan Latkanich and his three children Ryan, Hunter and Colton--
filed a lawsuit against Chevron and EQT shale gas companies alleging they violated the terms of their drilling lease by endangering their health, contaminating their water supply and not protecting their land.

The legal strategy rests in part on provisions in the gas lease and multiple assurances by the oil and gas drilling company that “expressly warranted” that drilling activities “would not present a danger” to their health, that their water supply would be tested prior to drilling and “would not be adversely affected” by their operations and that the property would be “substantially preserved and undisturbed.”

Their farm includes 33 acres, a two acre lake and a custom-built farmhouse with an attached 2.5 car garage with a wraparound porch constructed in 2000.

At the time Latkanich was considering the gas lease, he and his family “never experienced any problems with water supply, air quality, emissions, noises, dust, odors or any other environmental issues impacting their health,” according to the court filing.

“I had a certain expectation that my water wouldn't be damaged, my house wouldn't be damaged, that this gross negligence wouldn't go on, that they wouldn't get fines from the DEP, that I wouldn't be exposed to radiation, I wouldn't be exposed to chemicals,” said Latkanich.

The company said the drilling pad would only take up three-quarters of an acre of land, Latkanich said.

Based on these assurances and promises to “take all steps necessary to abate and remediate” any harms they did cause, Bryan Latkanich signed a gas lease agreement with Chevron on December 7, 2009.

The following is the story of Bryan Latkanich and his family, based on a November 15, 2022 interview.

The Money

“When they went to sign me, they approached me and said that I was going to earn

$255,000 the first three years. That's the first approach,” said Latkanich.

Then they came back with a new offer saying they found 40 to 60 times more natural gas on his farm. "Yeah, you're going to be a millionaire,” he quoted the company representatives as saying.

“So you're saying I'm going to make $8 to $13 million in the first 3 years?" Latkanich asked. "Yeah. Yeah." the company reps said.

At the time, Latkanich was recovering from major surgery.

“I [also] just got through a bad divorce. My son was born, while I was in a coma and he was taken by CYS [Child & Youth Services] … while I was in a coma,” Latkanich said. “In addition to that, I lost my job, I'm without income, and these people come into my house telling me I'm going to be a multi-millionaire within three years. I felt like I hit the lottery. So that's where it started.”

“So I signed a contract to allow them to put the two Marcellus wells on the property,” said Latkanich.


Latkanich said preparations for drilling “consumed my farm for about a year without producing gas in it, and I could not farm.”

He said the size of the drill pad and related infrastructure also grew from three-quarters of an acre to 18.4 acres of his 20 acre field.

“I'd never signed up for this, and I'd never agreed to the size of this pad or the placement of this pad. I never signed off. They just came in and did what they wanted,” said Latkanich.

“Because they made false promises and took my farm when they were only supposed to have a 100 by 200 foot pad, three quarters of an acre pad in the back, and the pad ended up being

1.7 acres consuming 18.4 acres of my land, which rendered my farm useless,” explained Latkanich.

“They moved over 200,000 cubic yards of earth here and built a mountain in my backyard, literally,” he said.

He said he contacted Chevron and their response was, “Well, why don't we just give you

$5 million for your 22 acres and call it a day?" And I said, "Well, why would I do that when you're offering me $8 to $13 million on my mineral rights in the first three years?"

“So that's how we got off onto a bad footing,” said Latkanich.

The Day That Changed Everything

“Then by December 2012, I got my first check in. It was December 17th, 2012, remember that day explicitly, it was $148 bucks. I about rolled over. I'm thinking $148,000,

$200,000,” said Latkanich.

“They built this way up. So I went up there [to the drill pad] with a camera,” said Latkanich. “Now I was a cheerleader for the industry. I was up there two, three times a week hanging out in the shack, talking to everybody, wore my helmet, wore my hard hat, best friends.

“The day I showed up there on December 17th, 2012 with a camera was the day everything changed.”

“I walked up there, went into the guard shack, asked to talk to the PIC, that's the guy that runs the pad, and I said, "I want to take some pictures." He was, "No, no, no." So I said, "I'm going to do it anyhow," said Latkanich. “Well, he calls over two guys and some other big guy, big guys.

“Now I'm just out of brain surgery. I'm clinging to life at 167 pounds, I'm very frail. And those three guys put me in the middle of them and chest bumped me and bounced me around like a pinball, not allowing me on my property.”

“So I left, but I wasn't too discouraged. I waited till they left at 4:00, 4:30, and walked up there and started taking pictures. I had no idea what I was taking pictures of, but I took random pictures.

“And it turned out that these pictures were very important, because what I took pictures of was liners ripped out of the frac pits with a trash pump down in the one frac pit with about four feet of water in it with no liner. Now this is all flowback water.”

“That's when I started documenting everything, taking pictures of everything, saving every detail up to the point that I had a tote that weighed over 40 pounds.”

[Note: The lawsuit filing documents the compliance history of the site through DEP notices of violations.]

We Got A Problem

“By April 2013, my girlfriend gives our son a bath. He's a toddler. She goes upstairs, gives him a bath. I'm sick on the couch. Obviously I've had a rough go with the brain surgery.

“And she screams at the top of her lungs, "Bryan, get up here." It's like, bloody murder. "What the hell's going on? I'm just trying to relax."

“So I walk up there, and I looked at my kid. I said, "What the hell did you do to him?

“She said, "No, it's the water. He got in the bath fine, he came out with sores all over him, blisters." Sores and blisters. I start blaming her automatically.

“Then I stepped in the water, and then I discovered it was the most slippery substance I've ever felt in my life. I couldn't stand in it, I couldn't do anything. I said, "We got a problem."

He called DEP and an inspector came to his house.

“I haven't been down the cellar because I've been frail. And we walk down the cellar to check the well pump and everything, and I notice my foundation's fractured to hell and back too. I'm like, "Oh boy."

“They [the company] focused all that water and runoff [over] unplanted [bare] ground toward my house. So it ran through my house, collapsed my foundation, pushed it in, pushed the house down the hill,” said Latkanich.

“And meanwhile, the whole [drilling] site, there's water, always runs off down to the house and runs into the house. So I go out there to the edge of the well site. [The inspector] telling me she's going to order a water buffalo [to provide drinking water for the home].”

“[The inspector is] standing in my yard telling me I have a problem or they [the drilling company] have a problem, but [I] have a bigger problem. She'd like to write them fines, but she has to get permission from a supervisor because she's [one of] two people out of 6,000 wells in their area. She's describing how they're overwhelmed with work and they can't get anything done. And I'm like, "This is getting to be bizarre and crazy as I've ever seen it," said Latkanich, “So she leaves.”

“At that time, I took my son, girlfriend, and myself to Dr. Metz at WVU, University of Toxicologist. We get down there and we tell them what's going on, but we have no substance,” said Latkanich. “We have no water tests, we have no air tests, we have nothing, so they really can't do a workup other than possible exposures.”

He contacted DEP to ask about the status of any fines against Chevron and said he was told by DEP, “Well, we determined that that was rain water."

“But I had to settle for that because it's the DEP. I had to settle for it,” said Latkanich. “Well, we can't drink our water. My kid's been exposed. God knows what we're being exposed to. My girlfriend's hair at the time was falling out in gaggles. I had a gallon freezer bag of her hair,” said Latkanich. “And then things went south for me. I lost all the hair on my body from my neck down and became sterile.”

“By November of [2013], Chevron did a big water sample and gave us this big booklet, "Your water's safe to drink now." So guess what we did? We had to use our water, but we continued to have problems with our water,” said Latkanich. “And we continued to complain, complain, and complain. [And] get, "You got bacteria in your water."

“Now how do I get bacteria? My well is 275 feet [deep]. It's cased at 60 feet deep. It's bentonite sealed around the case and inside the case. We had good water. This is coming in some other way.”

“So I continue to ask the DEP to do further testing. I want full suites. I want every test you can do. And I was told, "Well, we don't have the money for that. We just look for these few items, pH and whatnot."

“And meanwhile, the salts in my water are off the chart. It's like sea water. We've never had this issue before. Bromides in the water, never had this issue before. And my son, he keeps getting rashes every time we bathe him. It's hit and miss whether he's going to break out in rashes,” said Latkanich.

Another Offer

“A lot went wrong. I had people from the company come to this house and tell me on the side that this is the worst job they've ever seen. And to protect my family, there's only one option, is to move,” said Latkanich.

“Later, they offered me, I believe, it was $570,000 for my whole farm, which was an insult,” said Latkanich. “I have 33 acres, a 2 acre lake, full mineral rights. I had a beautiful place here, and they're going to offer me bottom of the barrel, about what money I paid 20 years ago for it. And that wasn't acceptable for me.”

More Problems

“During this time, my sewage backed up. Couldn't figure it out. Why would my sewage back up during this time? Called the contractor that put the septic in. We dug it up. We found out the schedule 40 pipe into the sewage was flush up against the concrete.

“They [the company] focused all that water and runoff [over] unplanted ground toward my house. So it ran through my house, collapsed my foundation, pushed it in, pushed the house down the hill,” said Latkanich.

“The pressure on the house pushed the house forward and shoved the plastic [pipe] through the ground like a straw and forced it up against the concrete abutment inside the septic.”

More medical issues were discovered by Latkanich.

“This spring, I went and got x-rays. They thought I had lead poisoning. And the rheumatologist looked at me and said, "Have you ever been in a war?" "No." It's on the x-ray.

“They're doing all the x-rays, the x-ray tech stuff. He says, "Have you ever been in a war?" I'm like, "This is getting real bizarre."

“And so I go see my doctor and he says, "Well, we got bad news." I said, "What's that?" “He says, "Your kidneys are in failure. Your spleen's in failure. That's what's causing the

uric acid to eat your joints up. And you come down with all this arthritis. And there's nothing more we can do. We're going to send you to a pain specialist."

“I didn't want that,” said Latkanich. “So I suffer with the pain. As far as my son, he still gets rashes. He was incontinent from age five to nine. He couldn't hold his bowels.”

In 2018, Latkanich related an incident where he forgot to take his pills with water from their bottled water cooler and used water out of the tap instead.

“I got violently ill for two days. Puking, diarrhea to the point I got delirium. I was that far out of it. They took me to the hospital,” said Latkanich. “I spent four days in the hospital, kidneys failed, spleen failed, and I got a two millimeter ulcer in my duodenum [small intestine] from one sip of water.”

PFAS And More

“There's a lot going on here that we've been exposed to, especially radiation and chemicals. [They] found benzene, styrene, and other fracking chemicals in us.

“And now we found PFAS [‘forever chemicals’],” said Latkanich.

The University of Pittsburgh did water testing twice, Latkanich said, because they found extremely high levels. They thought it was a mistake.

“So the head director of the lab came out from Pittsburgh University,” said Latkanich. “And then the study came out and found out we were 300 times over EPA standards when it was done by the people that ran the lab.”

“So we've got a cocktail here on our place. And we've been exposed for years and told by the DEP back in '14, "Oh, that's safe to drink,”” said Latkanich. “I met with everyone from the DEP and everyone from Chevron, probably about 80 people. When they came to this house, I went to the spigot and poured a glass of water, each and every time, and set it in front of them, ask them to drink. You know how many takers I've had?

“Zero. That tells me all I need to know,” said Latkanich.

Why Didn’t You Move?

“I didn't ask to move. I love my neighbors and neighborhood. This is my dream. I sit on the front porch, walk down the front lawn and fish with my kids. In the fall, we go right out our backyard and hunt, kill our deer. This is a dream.

“This was a paradise to me before they came in here. Now it's a nightmare. And people say, "Why didn't you sell it? Why don't you sell it?"

“Even though the DEP and industry says, it's fine, what I know, I couldn't put it on somebody else. I have a conscience.

“I think God put me [in this position] to disseminate this information, so people do not make this error, ruining good farm ground for the promise of money that isn't there.

“And then the aftereffects of what's going to be here, a total brown fill of uselessness, it's not worth it. Nothing here is worth it. I mean, was their greed and their money so important to off people like they're doing, totally destroying people's lives.”

“[I’m disabled] so I'm stuck here until we resolve this. And while we resolve this, I'm going to continue to tell the story because I know their [the company’s] MO. I want people to understand, not to get this, not to fall for it.

Timing Of Legal Action

When asked why he waited until now to file the legal action.

“It's not that I waited till now. I tried getting other attorneys. I tried people out of New Orleans. Nothing ever worked out,” said Latkanich.

“What it is, is no attorneys want to take on a trillion dollar company. They don't want to take this on because they have 60 attorneys on their side that are paid that will just paper them, and discover them to death, and run up millions and millions of dollars of paper.

“So no attorneys wanted to take this on. So it took a while till I finally found an attorney that was willing to risk everything to take this on.”


Over the life of the two Marcellus shale gas wells, Latkanich said he received approximately $134,000 in payments from Chevron. The wellhead value of those two wells to Chevron was $35,627,148.44, according to the lawsuit filing.

“I would've never signed if I'd heard $134,000 over 11 years, and you lose your whole place, damage your house, pollute your water, and you're sick,” said Latkanich.

“They don't go through the process of telling you what chemicals they're using. That's a trade secret. They don't tell you that this is all radioactivity that they're drilling through. And when that drill goes through, it's putting it in the air and you're subject to it.

“They don't tell you that these frac pits that sit here for over a year, in weather, 200 yards from your house, are leaching out volatile organic compounds and radioactivity.

“They don't tell you this. They prey on your ignorance. It took a lot of years just to figure out what's going on here,” said Latkanich.

Click Here for a copy of the lawsuit filing for much more detail.

For photos, maps and news reports related to this case, visit Bob Donnan’s Blog.

(Photo: Latkanich Farm and Chevron drill pad June 2012; View out the back door of the Latkanich home May 2013.)


(Written by David Hess, former Secretary PA Department of Environmental Protection.  Send comments to: 

Related NewsClips - Latkanich Farm:

-- Bob Donnan Blog/WTAE: Washington County Family Files Landmark Lawsuit Over Hazardous Chemicals And Chevron/EQT Shale Gas Drilling 

-- WTAE: Lawsuit By Washington County Homeowner Says Fracking Caused PFAS ‘Forever Chemicals’ To Contaminate His Drinking Water  

-- Pittsburgh Business Times: Washington County Family Sues Chevron, EQT Over Shale Gas Well Pads Near House

-- Environmental Health News: Fractured: Distrustful Of Frackers, Abandoned By Regulators

-- Environmental Health News: PFAS - The Latest Toxic Concern For Those Near Fracking

Related Articles This Week:

-- What Can We Expect From Gov. Shapiro, Lt. Gov. Davis On Environmental, Energy Issues?  [PaEN]

-- DEP Assesses $200,000 In Penalties For Drilling Wastewater Spills By CNX In Greene County  [PaEN]

-- Center For Coalfield Justice Holds First Water Distribution Day Nov. 19 To Help Provide Families Drinking Water In Greene County Following Alleged ‘Frack-Out’ At Natural Gas Well Site In June  [PaEN]

-- Post-Gazette: Efforts To Stop A Natural Gas Leak For The Last 12 Days At A Cambria County Underground Gas Storage Area Have Failed, Gas Is Again Escaping  [PaEN]

-- YaleEnvironment360 - Jon Hurdle: As Evidence Mounts, New Concerns About Fracking And Health

-- Pittsburgh Business Times: Natural Gas Drilling Ban Supporters See Wider Effort In Allegheny County Towns

-- Shale Gas & Public Health Conference: We've Got Enough Compelling Evidence To Enact Health Protective Policies For Families Now - By Edward C. Ketyer, M.D., President, Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania  [PaEN]

-- Shale Gas & Public Health Conference: When It Started, It Was Kind Of Nice, But What Happened Afterwards Really Kind Of Devastated Our Community - By Rev. Wesley Silva, former Council President Marianna Borough, Washington County  [PaEN]

-- Shale Gas & Public Health Conference: Living Near Oil & Gas Facilities Means Higher Health Risks, The Closer You Live, The Higher The Risk - By Nicole Deziel PhD MHS, Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health  [PaEN]

-- Shale Gas & Public Health Conference: Economically, Socially Deprived Areas In PA Have A Much Greater Chance Of Having Oil & Gas Waste Disposed In Their Communities - By Joan Casey, PhD, Assistant Professor of Environmental Health Sciences, Columbia Mailman School of Public Health  [PaEN]

-- Young Evangelicals For Climate Action Celebrates Stronger Proposed EPA Oil & Gas Methane Standard  [PaEN]

-- Environmental Health Project Calls Proposed EPA Oil & Gas Methane Emissions Rule Good First Step [PaEN]

-- IRRC Approves Final VOC/Methane Emission Limits On Conventional Oil & Gas Wells - Federal Highway Funds Still At Risk; And First State MCL For PFOS/PFOA  [PaEN]

Related Articles - Health & Environmental Impacts:

-- Senate Hearing: Body Of Evidence Is 'Large, Growing,’ ‘Consistent’ And 'Compelling' That Shale Gas Development Is Having A Negative Impact On Public Health; PA Must Act [PaEN]

-- DEP: PA Fracking Operations Sent Nearly 236,000 Cubic Feet Of Radioactive TENORM Waste To Low-Level Radioactive Waste Facilities For Disposal In 2021 - 811,070 since 2016  [PaEN]

-- Study: Industry Data Shows Hazardous Air Pollutants Are ‘Ubiquitous’ In The Natural Gas Transmission System; More Justification For Robust Leak Prevention Programs  [PaEN]

-- Environmental Health Project: Setback Distances And The Regulations We Need To Protect Public Health From Oil & Gas Facilities [PaEN]

-- Penn State Study: Potential Pollution Caused By Road Dumping Conventional Oil & Gas Wastewater Makes It Unsuitable For A Dust Suppressant, Washes Right Off The Road Into The Ditch  [PaEN]

-- DEP Lists 84 Townships As ‘Waste Facilities’ Where Conventional Oil & Gas Wastewater Has Been Disposed Of By Road Spreading; Municipalities Need To Do Their Due Diligence [PaEN]

-- On-Site Conventional Oil & Gas Drilling Waste Disposal Plans Making Hundreds Of Drilling Sites Waste Dumps [PaEN]

-- Conventional Oil & Gas Drillers Dispose Of Drill Cuttings By ‘Dusting’ - Blowing Them On The Ground, And In The Air Around Drill Sites  [PaEN]

-- Creating New Brownfields: Oil & Gas Well Drillers Notified DEP They Are Cleaning Up Soil & Water Contaminated With Chemicals Harmful To Human Health, Aquatic Life At 272 Locations In PA [PaEN]

-- Gov. Wolf, Senate, House Republicans Again Fail To Hold Conventional Oil & Gas Drillers Accountable For Protecting The Environment, Taxpayers On Hook For Billions [PaEN]

-- Conventional Oil & Gas Drillers Reported Spreading 977,671 Gallons Of Untreated Drilling Wastewater On PA Roads In 2021  [PaEN]

-- NO SPECIAL PROTECTION: The Exceptional Value Loyalsock Creek In Lycoming County Is Dammed And Damned - Video Dispatch From The Loyalsock - By Barb Jarmoska, Keep It Wild PA [PaEN]

-- Rare Eastern Hellbender Habitat In Loyalsock Creek, Lycoming County Harmed By Sediment Plumes From Pipeline Crossings, Shale Gas Drilling Water Withdrawal Construction Projects  [PaEN]

-- Conventional Oil & Natural Gas Drilling: An Industrial Machine Moving Across The PA Countryside Leaving Behind Big Liabilities & Spreading Pollution Everywhere It Goes [PaEN]

-- DEP Issued NOVs To Conventional Oil & Gas Companies For Abandoning 55 Wells Without Plugging Them During September Alone, A Dramatic Increase In New Well Abandonments  [PaEN]

-- Republican Chair Of House Environmental Committee Believes Opponents Of Natural Gas Infrastructure Projects ‘Just Need To Be Ignored And Politically Ran Over’ [PaEN]

Impact Of Oil & Gas Industry:

-- PA Environment Digest Articles On Health & Environmental Impacts Of Oil & Gas Industry

[Posted: November 17, 2022]  PA Environment Digest 

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