When the Giant Environmental "Footprint" of a Marcellus Well Stomps on Your Neighbor
More and more people are starting to realize the differences between the conventional shallow, vertical gas well fracking and the high-pressure, slick water deep horizontal fracking of a Marcellus well. Different mix of chemicals and ones more toxic than the previous water and foaming agents used to frack a conventional vertical well. And much bigger well pads. No longer about 1/4 acre, but rather 5-8 acres of land for the well pad. And long, long horizontal legs being drilled that reach out thousands of feet underneath other peoples’ surface land.
When a surface owner, who happens to also own his minerals, decides to lease his property for drilling, it's no longer a private matter, when you think about it. The noise, truck traffic, air pollution, and other adverse impacts affect an entire community. Other surface owners living nearby the drill site may be adversely affected. Therefore, they are stakeholders and sadly, in some cases, become victims.
If a mineral owner chooses to lease a lot of his properties, and therefore allow a lot of Marcellus well heads to go down and out in dozens of different directions, that's a lot of neighbors affected. It's no longer a case of "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas." Unlike the conventional vertical shallow well drilling affecting only the single property, it's now a community issue.
Steve Beck is the third generation farmer in western Pennsylvania near the Ohio border, not too far from Youngstown. He operates a small farm in Pulaski, PA. He expresses his concerns about the risks associated with fracking by writing letters in local newspapers and going door to door to try to educate farmers about the risks and uncertainty that surround Marcellus drilling. Below is one of his letters which appeared in the Letter to the Editor published Sun, March 25, 2012 in "Youngstown Vindicator" newspaper. You can also find it on the following website link:
Selling true farmers short
"A shale industry spokesman at a recent event at Wilmington Area High School was asked what effect shale gas well drilling will have on our local agriculture. His response: “All I can say about that is that we’re going to make a lot of farmers around here rich.” As he leaned into the microphone and boldly delivered his clever, smug statement, I sat in the audience and realized that this man did not understand real farmers at all. To a real farmer, farming is not just an occupation or a hobby, it is much more. To some true farmers, it is a way of life — a total life-style. To other authentic farmers, farming is an inspired passion, and to some others, it is almost a religion that shapes their moral code.
There is a level of awareness and joy attained by the farmer who is appreciative of, and who understands, the beauty he perceives in what he is doing. Every true farmer can vividly describe some personal aesthetic experiences that have occurred to him on his farm at one time or another. These are gentle, joyful memories that visit and comfort him on his death bed and ease his departure from this life.
I know a farmer who signed a gas lease a few years ago without being made aware of the risks, consequences, and sacrifices that he would have to face and endure. When the heavy equipment that the lease permitted on his land arrived and began to knock down many of his large oak trees, which he had often climbed as a boy, he immediately felt the loss of the goodness that those beautiful trees had generously provided him throughout his life. When he watched the simple, single-file cow path being replaced by a wide, permanent, industrial road across his wild-flowered meadow, his sense of loss was magnified. When the slow seepage entered the aquifer and finally contaminated his and his neighbors’ water wells forever, he was overcome with deep regret for signing that complicated, deceptive gas lease; but it was too late.
We are conditioned by our greedy, competitive society to try to get as much money as we can get. People who read their Bibles are warned over and over again in the pages of this Good Book to resist this temptation. Yet in our local communities, thousands of hypocrites willingly signed leases in order to become rich despite all the warnings about the serious consequences of signing.
In the solitude of his fields, the sensitive farmer concludes that happiness dwells in the beauty of true virtue. Gratitude, simplicity and humility make up the content of his character, and he clearly realizes that he doesn’t need to be given a lot of money to be rich."
-- Steven J. Beck, West Middlesex
Steve Beck is a person who understands the risks and consequences. He also understands that a person's greed and ignorance can often harm others.
The drilling industry continues to claim that there has never been a documented case of well water or aquifer contamination from fracking. They can say that because the Marcellus frenzy hit Washington County and Bradford County PA by storm, and our own Wetzel County, WV as well. They are all about five years ahead of us on the Marcellus drilling. Researchers did not have time to get in there and conduct the necessary baseline water quality and health assessments prior to the start of drilling in these other areas because there was such a drilling frenzy that no one was prepared for it to hit so fast.
Now these researchers are seeing a sudden influx of allegations coming out of these heavily drilled areas. People in many different PA communities suddenly reporting unexplained symptoms and health issues. It has medical professionals perplexed, but the one common denominator in each of the cases, is that these people live very close to fracking. A health clinic, the first of its kind, was opened in south western PA to treat people who claim to have fracking related health issues. See web link: http://www.environmentalhealthproject.org/
Dr. Amy Pare, in treating patients with skin lesions did toxicology tests on their urine samples and discovered the presence of several chemicals in their urine that are used in fracking.
Allegations of livestock illness and death related to fracking are another area of concern. See link:
Veterinarian and researchers, Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald published a report profiling several incidents. Others included that of Terry Greenwood, a PA farmer, who observed that during 18 years of farming he would have maybe one still born calf a year. But since drilling took place around his farm, the following year he had 10 still born calves and several others had birth defects.
Not very reassuring things to hear in a county where cattle farming and natural beef marketing ventures are present. Organic farming may be highly unlikely in places being fracked.
Of course, whenever the industry hears reports of water contamination, human or livestock health issues, and other concerns, the industry frequently responds with "prove it was us." Lawsuits are often settled with gag orders.
The industry's multi-million dollar public relations campaign heard on radio and TV boast that there has never been a documented case of water contamination. But that is starting to fall apart for the industry. In fact, the EPA recently reported that a community in Wyoming may finally be yielding the evidence that the industry can no longer dispute.
In the EPA's 121 page draft report released on December 8, 2011 EPA officials stated that the contamination near the town of Pavilion, Wyoming "had most likely seeped up from gas wells and contained at least 10 compounds known to be used in frack fluids."
See article links:
Doddridge and surrounding counties in North Central WV are at the front end of Marcellus drilling and in good position to offer researchers the opportunity to come here and get those baselines that the industry touts aren't there. Researchers will be coming to this area soon to get those baselines. (More on that in coming weeks.)
In the meantime, ponder the notion that while a person has the right to use and enjoy their own property as they see fit, others have the right to use and enjoy their properties also ....and without harm from the other. And when people are harmed by a person's decision or action, everyone knows that any decent lawyer would easily be able to turn it into a liability issue.
No doubt there are some of those in the legal community who may be waiting on the sidelines for such opportunity, including some from out of state wanting to "set up shop" in WV for the benefit of landowners impacted by the drilling. Things could get very interesting around these parts in the future.