The Cost of Energy: One Family’s Perspective

What’s it like to live with fracking? David Headley says his Western Pennsylvania community was a beautiful place to live and raise a family before gas production began. Now it’s filled with noise “like a landing jet,” spring water that will burn and odd medical conditions for his 4-year-old son.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The nation’s energy boom is lowering the cost of natural gas, creating jobs in parts of rural America and reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign energy. But some advocates say the boom also creates economic and environmental hardship for the largely rural communities where energy is extracted. This first-person article is taken from “Shalefield Stories: Personal and Collected Testimonies,” published by Friends of the Harmed. The organization advocates on behalf of families in the shalefields of western Pennsylvania that have been affected by hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” The complete report is available here. 

We have been residents of Fayette County for 28 years. We have owned our current residence for seven years. Our rural community in Springhill Township, Pennsylvania, was a serene, safe, picturesque small town, situated along the Monongahela and Cheat rivers, nestled in the foothills of the glorious Allegheny Mountains. Life here was quiet. This was a beautiful place to live and raise our family, far from the bustle of the city. This was before the drilling.

We first noticed the gas activity when bulldozers invaded our hay fields to build access roads to well pads. It began only about six weeks after we signed on the land, having bought it with the mineral rights but without the oil and gas rights. Since coal mining was the issue around here and there had been little to no gas activity left in the area, we were made not to worry about the potential for development, and moved ahead with plans to build our dream home. This was before anyone knew the name Marcellus. Yet, in seven years’ time, the man who owns the rights has put four shallow wells, one Marcellus well and a pipeline across the property. We had no idea they could do this to the land or us.

Photo by J.B. Pribanic/Public Herald
David Headley stands in front of dumpsters filled with his contaminated land (part of a closed loop system of waste management). The soil and rock awaits test results for radioactivity to determine its suitability for deposit in a landfill. Meanwhile, it sits on David’s property.

The truck traffic is constant. Land damages were of course immediate. Trucks, noise, dust and nomadic workers followed. Then came the pollution of our air and water, then deforestation and the destruction of fruit trees. They even managed to burn 10 acres of ground with a brush fire, set with used motor oil from a bulldozer’s oil change! Every hour, once an hour, it sounds like a landing jet visits our once quiet farm as well.

We have even had multiple leaking wells for over a year, ignored by the operators, and now we have a spring 200 feet from our house which is now so rich with gas, it can be set on fire. Doctor visits have become commonplace. Our 4-year-old son has mysterious stomach issues that cripple him with pain; we do not have any answers, yet.

Then came the transmission pipelines along with more nomadic workers and thousands of gallons of drilling chemicals in our beautiful, trout-stocked stream! And why? All because of an uncaring, dirty industry, driven by greed, selling their souls, and leaving our health, environment and rights behind as waste. When will this nightmare end?

Dozens of neighbors and communities in whole have suffered. One next-door neighbor’s well was contaminated. They had to get municipal water after the industry denied responsibility. We know of at least three families having serious health problems; they have had to seek legal assistance. Increased loads on rural roads have led to numerous accidents and incidents. Crimes in the area have increased.

Photo by Jeff Swensen for The New York Times
Linda Headley and her husband, David, say they get headaches from drilling on their property, but not the benefits: They own the land but not the gas rights.

Our experience with our local and state officials and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been mostly not caring, not responding or denying. 
Those who do care usually express feelings of helplessness or frustration. Most say the industry lobbying and money are hard to fight against. Others admit that they are now called the “Don’t Expect Protection” and therein lies the truth.

Our once peaceful existence has forever changed. This industry is a loose cannon; we need to get a handle on it. Add layers of protection for all our people. Regulate and hold the industry accountable. Please slow the acceleration of this industry. Safe extraction and concern for the environment is
 a must! If we could put a man on the moon 40 years ago, we can find a better, safer, healthier way to fuel our future and our children’s future.

We have many photos, videos and water and soil samples. Our air samples are pending. It’s too late for us. But we are willing to share anything that may help someone else.

 

Topics: Environment
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