Southwestern Energy Production Co. (SEPCO), a subsidiary of Southwestern Energy Co., said last week a lawsuit claiming that its drilling in Lenox Township, PA, contaminated nearby water wells contains “unfounded allegations.”

In a motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, SEPCO challenged the legal basis for several parts of the complaint. The court will review the motion and the briefs to be filed by the parties and decide how much of the lawsuit will be permitted to proceed. At this stage of the lawsuit, the rules only allow SEPCO to challenge the complaint on legal grounds.

The complaint alleges that SEPCO’s hydraulic fracturing activities contaminated nearby water wells with barium, manganese and strontium. However, neither the drilling fluids nor the fracturing fluids utilized by SEPCO contained any of these substances, the company said.

“Barium is one of the most common elements in the earth’s crust and occurs naturally in many water supplies, which has been noted by both federal and state agencies,” SEPCO said. “An August 2007 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services specifically identified Pennsylvania as a state with many communities that ‘have drinking water where barium content is up to 10 times higher than the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended maximum concentration level.’ Further, water samples from the area taken prior to the commencement of SEPCO’s drilling operations indicated barium readings in excess of federal and state limits.”

SEPCO has worked with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to confirm that its operations were not the source of any concern and that people living near work sites have safe water to use, said Mark Boling, Southwestern general counsel.

“We are concerned that lawyers for the plaintiffs in this lawsuit are making statements in the media that we believe are demonstrably wrong. The allegations in this lawsuit are serious, and the parties should make their cases in court with accurate, scientific evidence rather than in the press with statements that have no support in any evidence SEPCO has seen.”

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