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Kate Sinding’s Blog

Visiting Dimock, Seeing Gas Drilling’s Ugly Side Firsthand

Kate Sinding

Posted April 15, 2010 in Curbing Pollution

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Like so many who have been following controversial gas drilling issues in the Northeast’s Marcellus Shale region (the geological formation that stretches from West Virginia to upstate New York), I have been hearing and reading about, and seeing images of, Dimock, PA for the past roughly year-and-a-half.  For those not in the know, Dimock has become the unfortunate poster child for all that can go wrong when industrial gas drilling in the Marcellus isn’t adequately regulated and companies make mistakes.  Residents have experienced the wide array of adverse effects associated with shale gas production – many of them, it should be noted, inherent in the activity even under the best of circumstances.

These impacts include: exploding water wells, contaminated water supplies necessitating daily fresh water deliveries (complete with home invasion in order to accept the regular deliveries), rural landscapes utterly transformed into industrial zones, constant diesel fumes, 24-hour-a-day traffic and noise that literally shakes the walls of homes.

I finally had the opportunity to visit Dimock in person earlier this week.  This is the first of a series of posts that I’ll file giving some of my impressions.  I’m doing this not because I have something new or unique to offer, but because the experience so affected me.  And the people who invited me into their homes deserve to have their stories told. I have been working on the Marcellus Shale gas drilling issue for about two-and-a-half years, but as much as I have read, listened to stories, seen photos and video footage and talked about the potential adverse impacts, nothing can compare to seeing, hearing and smelling them live.

The first thing that should be said is that Dimock is (or was) some of the prettiest Pennsylvania farm country I’ve seen.  (We’ve posted a few of the photos from our visit here.  Other excellent photos of Dimock have been taken by artist, J. Henry Fair, and by local activist, Frank Finan.)  While many of Dimock’s residents have been there for generations, many more moved to Dimock to retire in its rolling hills or to raise their kids in a peaceful place.

But now – and for some just years after purchasing their new homes – the landscape is dotted with industrial operations, the roads swarm with trucks and the drinking water is a disturbing shade of brown.

 

As devastating as the experience is for those who have lost (for the rest of their own lives and those of generations to come) their fundamental right to have clean, safe, potable drinking water come out of their taps (and I’ll be focusing more on this in my next post), what was most perhaps most eye-opening was the utter transformation of the community.

Only when you’re standing in the front yard of someone’s dream home – which was once surrounded only by their residential neighbors and farms – and see, hear, smell and feel the vibrations of the incessant truck traffic that passes at all hours of the day and night can you truly understand how transformative it is when gas production arrives in a community.  Only when you hear the constant industrial noise from every direction as new well pads are cleared, well bores drilled and then fracked – noise that likewise exists around the clock – can you comprehend how those whose lives have already been turned upside down by drilling gone wrong can never escape the constant auditory reminders.  And only when you stand in the backyard of a family who moved to the beautiful Dimock countryside after their last home burned to the ground and see the well pads to both their immediate left and right does it become clear that – even if everything had gone “right” – this family now lives in an industrial zone.

My next post will focus on some of the myriad things that have, in fact, gone wrong in Dimock – things that have made it the unwilling cautionary tale for why Marcellus drilling should not be permitted in New York (or anywhere) unless and until we are shown if and how it can be done safely.

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Comments

John KavallerApr 15 2010 08:40 PM

Kate and others--

As a realtor, NYS licensed real estate agent, and local Sullivan County, NY resident:

I'm scared and horrified that the tranquil farm life of Dimock was turned into an industrial wasteland.

I live on one of the only main local county roads that runs east and west. If drilling comes to Western Sullivan County, we're in for one long nightmare. There is no doubt that Jeffersonville could quite likely become the next Dimock, PA.

And--you can bet your last dime that second home owners and local residents alike will suffer the same fate as those in Dimock.

When will the lesson be learned? When you destroy the enviornment, you destroy the very sustenance we all need to survive.

Short term solutions to the energy crisis are unsustainable. When green can make super profits, the enviroment will once again be cared for. Until then--

Take a few deep breaths and let your views be known. If NYC doesn't understand this threat to their water supply, they deserve every last drop of contanimated fluid that comes barreling down those underground tunnels from the Catskills to the taps of Metro NYC.

John Kavaller

Mary SweeneyApr 16 2010 12:47 AM

I live in upstate NY, above the Marcellus Shale, not far from Dimock, PA. I, too, have visited Dimock, and I am angry and terrified at how the shale gas industry operates and at the lax regulatory atmosphere that the gas industry enjoys.

My husband and I live in an old home in upstate NY that we have been lovingly restoring and maintaining for the last 25 years. For a long, long time now, we have been aware of the need to limit our own energy use. We try to watch our personal energy use, purchase locally as much as possible, and "vacation" by enjoying our own surroundings rather than taking long vacation trips that require a lot of flying. We also grow a lot of our own food. None of that has been a burden--we love it here: the friendly community, the Susquehanna River, the bald eagles, the forested, rolling hills.

For more than a quarter century we have planned carefully for our eventual retirement, making renovations to our home (often with our own hands) that were not made with resale value in mind, because we intended to stay here for the rest of our lives. But now with the drilling moving closer and closer, we have spent the last two years living with a constant level of fear--a level that spikes each time more bad news from Dimock (or other drilling areas) reaches us. Even though the drilling has not yet reached our community, it has had a terrible impact on our lives, making us feel as if we are refugees in our own home. We feel that we can no longer plan our future with any sort of reasonable assurance that that future will occur. Ironically, one of the things that the drilling has derailed is our plans to purchase a solar panel: we do not want to make such an investment now because we fear we will end up selling the house, since we do not want to live in a shale gas industrial zone. If drilling occurs near our home, its value is likely to plummet.

We are now faced with the agonizing decision of whether we should sell a home we love and move far away from friends and family in order to escape the shale, or staying here and hoping against hope that the devastation will not be as bad as we fear. We have spent a tremendous amount of (unpaid!) time researching the shale gas drilling issue, attending meetings, writing letters--doing everything we can to try to bring some sanity to this situation. Our life has not been "normal" since this gas rush began.

This is a horrible way to live. I would not wish this tension-filled nightmare on anyone. And as for the poor people in Dimock, who do not even have potable water, I don't know how they get the courage to face each day. I would not have lasted there as long as they have.

In the first half of the 20th century a lot of pollution occurred before we understood its long-lasting and far-ranging negative effects. But what is the excuse now? Shouldn't we know better??? It is an utter disgrace that this is being allowed: I thought America was better than this.

carolyn wellsApr 16 2010 07:13 AM

thank you for writing about this. Others need to be warned about gas drilling. My sister and I own property there. It has become a nightmare.

Mary SweeneyApr 16 2010 03:02 PM

Two points I'd like to add to my earlier comments:

1) There are many people who live above the shale who are in the same situation that my husband and I are in. Just today I received email from one of them who read my comments here. A lot of people's plans for the future have come to a virtual halt because of this gas drilling. Here in NY, gas wells can be located in areas zoned residential, without any public hearings or notification of adjacent landowners. People who own their mineral rights (i.e. not a "split estate" situation) and who have faithfully paid their mortgages and property taxes for years and years are now facing a significant drop in the value of their property and in the quality of their lives through absolutely no fault of their own.

2) Kate noted that "what was perhaps most eye-opening was the utter transformation of the community."

I think this is really the central problem. In shale gas drilling, the well density has to be so high that even if each individual well were constructed responsibly (good luck with that), the landscape would still be utterly devastated. If the gas industry is to extract a significant amount of shale gas (i.e. enough to really put in a dent in, say, coal use), a huge area of the country will have be transformed into a gigantic gas factory. And again, even if all of the "best practices" were faithfully followed (a fantasy situation as far as I can tell), some accidents are going to occur, and when you have many tens of thousands of wells, even a small percentage of failures can be devastating. It took just a few defective wells to create water problems in a 9-square-mile area of Dimock. A report prepared for Broome County, NY projected that 2,000-4,000 shale gas wells would be drilled in the 700-square-mile county.

Personally, I do not think the technology to extract shale gas in a safe and sane manner yet exists: the technology they have now is not ready for prime time and they're trying to use it anyway. It's as if the shale regions are one big outdoor laboratory and the people who live in them are guinea pigs.

Patrice VanSlykeApr 17 2010 12:21 PM

Ms. Sinding, Thank you for continuing to educate the public about the devastating effects of drilling. Even the "best case scenarios" are frightening. Like Mary Sweeney above my ideal retirement home is endangered by my neighbors greed and disregard for the environment when they signed gas leases in NYS. Every day that I should spend joyous about my ideal lifestyle choice in a clean, healthy environment with pristine spring water is spent instead wondering how long I will have it. I have no where else to go - I've invested everything in this place. The prospects terrify me every day - it has in fact ruined my peaceful life before they even drilled here. I want to see a class action suit against them with people like me as the plaintives. Anyone know where signs and bumper stickers are available like people had protesting the power lines through NY?
Too many people still think this won't affect them. A woman said to me the other day "I have town water" as a reason why she didn't feel the need to get involved. I asked her - really? you think that makes you safe?! Again, Thanks! and keep the message out there until the powers that be decide to protect the environment and the people instead of big oil's deep pockets. PV

Stella BarrettApr 17 2010 04:45 PM

for Patrice VanSlyke, go to www.SyracuseCulturalWorkers.com They have yard signs, buttons & stickers re this problem. Wearing the button will enable you to talk about this problem, when people ask you what "No Frackin' Way" refers to. I live in Western PA and I will question every candidate for office in this State re what they will do to regulate this procedure. There is a Cree saying "Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money."

Nell HawsApr 18 2010 04:55 AM

What would the authorities do if someone were caught dumping a tanker load of toxic chemicals into the reservoir of any large city? Make an arrest? What would they do if an underground water table or aquifer has toxic chemicals introduced by horizontal hydraulic fracturing (fracking) during the process of extracting natural gas? Make an arrest?
Which has the most immediate impact and affects the most people? Which makes money and provides jobs?

Sue BranderApr 18 2010 08:33 AM

The people who are in the line of fire of the gas exploration are not only threatened by the environmental effects. They are threatened by the noise. (See World Health Organization's Community Noise.) And they are threatened by the stress of the battle they are fighting. I live near the proposed Jordanville Wind Project and I was a leader in the effort to stop that project. The voices I hear in these comments sound so familiar from our struggle against the 400-foot wind turbines whining over our homes. Some of the people who fought that project developed heart conditions and cancer. Both these diseases have a large body of literature that ties them to stress. These things happened especially to the older opponents of the project. I developed breast cancer.


The entire energy industry is out of control in America. They are allowed to destroy communities and lives in the hedonistic pursuit of corporate profits. Responsible government is required to rein them in. Where have all the courageous leaders gone?

Sue Brander

Sari SchwartzApr 18 2010 12:26 PM

My retirement plan was to buy and operate the Inn at Starlight Lake, America's oldest continuously operated railroad inn, where I was an annual New Year's Eve guest from 1974-1991. I purchased and moved to northern Wayne County 5 years ago. Now, in neighboring Susquehanna County where we send our winter guests to Elk Mountain (elkskier.com), just next door to Dimock, PA, pollution in every form is everywhere. Just miles away, our scenic and pure region turned into little-Texas and it can only get worse. Our guests read our local papers or take scenic drives and then comment to us as if we weren't already scared 24/7. We are a destination, not an industrial zone; soon that may change due to greedy neighbors, lying corporations, and laws left in place by the last, and worst, president/dictator America has seen.

mel gerardApr 19 2010 09:53 AM

I live on the Barnett Shale, and hardly notice any changes due to gas drilling. The only changes are the enormous benefit to the area, and a transformation of our infrastructure and public buildings for the better.

Do you ever look at anyone's bank account, or at the money pouring into the area?

Think about reducing our dependence on foreign energy.

You can't just view drilling from the outside. It creates jobs and enables people to hold on to their property.

It can be done safely and discreetly. I see it every day.

Sandra McDanielApr 21 2010 01:09 PM

DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! SIGN A PETITION TO STOP USING TOXIC CHEMICALS! 30 SECONDS MEANS MORE THAN 30 HOURS OR YEARS OF TALKING ABOUT IT. BAN TOXIC CHEMICALS, GO ORGANIC!
SIGN A PETITION TO BAN TOXIC POISONS NOW...30 SECONDS AND YOU ARE DONE.

http://www.change.org/petitions/view/toxic_villains_and_toxic_genocide

Michelle Sampson CoreyApr 22 2010 08:07 PM

Thank you so much for writing this.

I grew up in Wellsboro, PA--a few hours west of Dimock--on a 300 acre dairy farm in the middle of what's known as the Endless Mountains. The farm (no longer a working one) has been in my family for 4 generations. I looked forward to moving back home one day, perhaps to retire. I've traveled to a lot of beautiful places, but none can really compare to home. I've moved around a lot--trying to recreate it and I've come to the conclusion that I can't. There really *is* no place like home. And so I've been biding my time until I can one day move back.

Only now all of that is called into question. I went back home last September and was horrified to see a huge drilling operation about 1/4 mile away as the crow flies.

Night-time is one of my favorites times there--there is absolutely nothing better than cool mountain air, the sound of 'peepers' chirping in the background, and seemingly a million stars in the sky (they're always so much brighter out in the mountains!) and just the stillness of the place. In my crazed world, it's one of the few places where I can go and just *be.*

Last September though, all I could focus on as I stood in my backyard was the methane flame and spotlights as the digging continued.

I've read and heard people say, "why don't you just sell your land and move away then?" But there aren't many places like Dimock, Wellsboro or the greater Endless Mountains left. How many people can say they grew up in the same house as their grandfather? Played in the same yard as her father did as a child? I even brought my (soon-to-be) husband back home and we were married in a field next to that house my grandfather grew up in. Common sense tells me that yes, it's just land. But it's so much more than that to me--and many others like me.

Since September, our property has become virtually surrounded by either wells or pipelines. I live in fear something's going to happen to all of my family members who still live there. For Christmas, I got my parents' well water tested for everything under the sun so that if, god forbid, something should happen, we at least have a baseline to prove the water was not contaminated. But other than that, I felt powerless (a common feeling among many back home, I can tell you). I can't move back at the moment to fight this, but I wasn't going to do nothing. So I started a blog that morphed into a sister facebook page. In the span of a few months, it's approaching 500 fans. I might not be able to have my own boots on the ground there, but I *can* cull information to make sure people are informed.

Again, thank you so much for writing this series. I look forward (I think) to reading your future posts.

MSampson Corey
www.facebook.com/endlessmountains

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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