CHARTIERS TOWNSHIP (KDKA) — When longtime Washington County residents, the Sickles, received a certified letter from Range Resources, they didn’t know what to think about it.

The gas drilling company wanted to test the drinking water the couple uses from their own well. Why? Because Range hopes to start drilling nearby and wants to know ahead of time how good the water really is.

From her home in Chartiers Township, Dorothy Sickles told KDKA Political Editor Jon Delano the letter raised concerns.

“I don’t want nothing happening to that water, I sure don’t,” she said. “And that does have me somewhat concerned, it does.”

Range Resources will pay for the water test and share the results, but the letter comes on a bit strong, says attorney Jake Polochak who represents landowners.

“This highlights a broader problem of the way gas companies correspond with landowners. This would give a sense of urgency to a landowner,” said Polochak.

Polochak says property owners should never be rushed into signing anything.

For property owners who receive a letter in the mail, they have two choices: either sign the letter and get a state-certified test of your drinking water, which might contain some bad news; or refuse the letter in which case the presumption that the drilling company causes future damage to your drinking water is gone.

State law presumes that drilling companies are the cause of new pollution in drinking water. However, if a homeowner refuses a water quality test offered by a drilling company the presumption of guilt is removed.

The language of the letter can scare property owners, but its goal is simple.

“It was drafted so you would grant the request,” said Attorney Polochak.

Range Resources’ Matt Pitzarella says those who sign or refuse the form are not signing away a right.

“It does not waive liability. It only waives the presumption, and that’s because they are eliminating the potential to test for it,” Pitzarella said.

Attorney Polochak says it’s always good to have well water tested.

Dorothy Sickles agrees, “Well I guess we’ll have to have it tested, yes.”

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