Day 4

Written by Alex Hitchens

It was tough to think of an introduction to this blog post because I was on a roller coaster of emotions today.  In this post I have to synthesize testimonies and what seems like a documentary horror film (identified as such with the help of Jordan).  The members of these communities refer to the gas and oil industry as Industry with a capital ‘I’.  It is frightening to now think that those of Industry in these areas seem to be aliens, lacking human emotion and possibly morality.

Frank (the man hosting the group) and Rebecca, both concerned citizens in the community, were our tour guides in between visiting Paul, Gerri, Tammy and Ray.

Paul leased his land, but he was not told about the compressor (takes the extracted gas and pushes it through the gas lines) only moments from his home and his biggest complaint is the low frequency noise emitted. Low frequency was used by the allies against the Nazis during WWII because it causes irritability.  What a comparison. There is a noise ordinance, but there is no way to enforce it because there is no monitoring or trained people.

We talked a lot about how these companies cut corners to save money, about the required versus the safety standards.  In this compressor, it is almost obvious that Williams (company) had gone with the minimum safety standard of metal for its piping.  For instance, the compressor had been humming at its loudest for a while, and Paul was curious as to why.  He was given a tour and assured of the compressor’s safety, but five months later it blew up.

Paul had “paradise” before natural gas, and if he could do it all over again he would not have signed his leased because of the aggravation it is causing him.

The view from his backyard, his former paradise turned nightmare:

P1180419

In between visiting with Paul and Gerri we approached a frack site and were told that we had to stay off of the property but we could take pictures and observe from the road.  A pick-up truck sped up on the dirt road and the driver hit the acceleration as he or she passed us, leaving a cloud of black exhaust.

P1180467 P1180472 (note Halliburton!)

Gerri can count 14 flares (a way of ridding the excess- burning it) around her property.  She considers what is going on to be chemical warfare, murder, and child abuse.  She mentioned that her doctor is sick of hearing about these problems and recommended that Gerri file for bankruptcy. I can’t begin to imagine being in that situation!  We learned that doctors have to recognize the Physician’s Gag Order, which basically states that doctors cannot disclose patient information if it is related to natural gas extraction.  WHAT?!  It is like these politicians did not even read the laws they enacted.  She has grandchildren who cannot visit her property because of the water and air quality, and she teared up as she mentioned that she held her daughters when they miscarried (plural).  Her husband is scalded by the water (not the temperature but chemical burns); her dentist “loves” her teeth because they can slip right out of her gums; her grandchildren had heavy metals passed down into their bloodstreams.  When she saw us she said something along the lines of, “if I had known kids were coming, I would have met you somewhere else.  I don’t let my grandchildren in my house.”  The picture below shows water that came from Gerri’s tap… she can move the metals around with a magnet.

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We next met with Tammy.  Her water well had been detached from her house after it exploded (think geyser) because of a methane bubble under it, but she has no support from her community because, for now, many have clean water and are reaping the benefits of the “royalties.”  Before being supplied with water by a water buffalo, they could not use their methane stove for fear of explosion and had to leave the bathroom window and door open (even in the winter) because it was too small an area to risk methane concentration.   Two months after their first water testing, the methane levels doubled, and it was striking to realize that the common person may not be educated in reading water test results.  Tammy’s parting words were, “thank you for your interest.”

P1180497 This is on the wall of Tammy’s water buffalo.  She has chickens, roosters and grandchildren to take care of.

The stories today have been moving, and the theme of these discussions has been the lack of the “human element,” or questioning how the people in power seem to be disconnected.

Below we were given a “historical tour” of a small cemetery next to the site of the future Constitution pipeline, which would allow the gas to flow through New York.  There was a man very skeptical of our white 15-passenger van parked outside of the cemetery next to the site even though it was public land and he very obviously took pictures of us and the van’s license plate.  Imagine living like that, being thought of as a threat and maybe even eco-terrorist.

Nagging question of the week: If nothing is wrong behind the gates, why act so suspicious?

P1180488

Ray is super active in the anti-fracking movement and loves to be the thorn in Industry’s side.  He was hired by Chesapeake to be a water truck driver when the natural gas extraction began.  Fun fact, these truck drivers are exempt from all laws that make driving long shifts safe (i.e. drivers may drive longer than 8 hours per day for two weeks straight).  So, we talked a lot about the increase in accidents and heard many more heart-wrenching stories.  In addition, the tanks that say “fresh water” do not have to hold fresh water.  Surprised?  Ray has a lot of insight into the other side of the story because of having been employed by Chesapeake and interacting with Cabot Oil and Gas, as well.  His front yard displayed many, many anti-fracking signs.

On an unrelated note, Ray passed around a water quality report from the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection).  It read, “level to high to determine source.”  The people are not even worth proper grammar!

P1180510

Rebecca and her daughter, Rachel, joined us after dinner.  She is a college junior, so we were definitely able to identify with her and it was super special to hear her perspective.
Personally, these experiences have altered the way I think about fracking/Fracking/hydraulic fracturing/the unconventional development of methane from clustered multi well-pads using ultra high volume hydraulic fracturing in long laterals.  I believe the issue is not that of process of fracturing the shale rock; the issue is definitely the human impacts of the process.  It is amazing, in the most original sense of the work, how much the Industry warps words and ideas, lies, and with-holds information.  Those who pass the laws related to fracking must not even read what is written, and those who do are politically invested in the practice.  Ray kept reminding the group that it is all about the “almighty dollar;” the Industry pays off whomever may speak out against them even indirectly (the media).  I want to further my education and be an active part in finding alternative energies so people do not have to suffer this way.

This blog post is longer than any paper I have had to write this semester, and I still have about 15 pages of notes to share with you.  I wish I could reiterate verbatim what Frank, Rebecca, Paul, Gerri, Tammy, Ray and Rachel had to say because I am not doing their words justice.  I think I can speak for the group when I say I am ready and willing to bring this reality back.  I am excited to share my knew knowledge with you.

I have gained a ridiculous amount of perspective from this alt. break so far.  Thank you Aliya, Scotty, Shoshanna and everybody  who made this trip so effective. And thank you, readers, for your interest in our investment.

3 responses to “Day 4”

  1. Shoshanna says :

    What can I say? This is fantastic and amazing that you are having such a great learning experience and on your way to becoming activists…. I love it!

  2. Shelby says :

    I just wanted to say thank you to all of you. I’m not really sure how I stumbled on this blog, but it inspired the topic for my term paper in an environmental health class at SJSU. It’s amazing that you guys are taking these steps to learn more about these issues and are sharing them with the world! This blog is very inspiring and it saddens me that there is so much working against the people in these towns.

    • Aliya says :

      Thanks so much Shelby for your comment! We saw a lot on the trip that people don’t know about. Many Americans are told how natural gas is the way to go because it is “less” harmful to the environment than alternatives, it creates jobs and that it’s a domestic fuel source. But, as you read, it’s not. This trip really opened our eyes to the true impacts that most people don’t know about.

      It means a lot that other people, outside of the American University community, are reading this! I hope you have shared it with your classmates and professors at SJSU. Unfortunately, the system is very corrupt but I’m confident that with grassroots organizing we can truly demand change. We need to spread the word though! We all have to do our part: learn as much as we can, educate as many people as possible and to stand up for what we believe is fair.

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