Boom and bust

It’s amazing how things move in cycles. Coal, lumber, oil and now natural gas have created many boom and bust cycles for Pennsylvania. Marcellus Shale, the next boom and bust cycle, is a very controversial topic in Pennsylvania and New York because of the negative impacts it has on the land and those who live on the land.

Water buffalo sitting in the front yard of a house in Dimock, Pa. Residents without well water have 500 gallons of water shipped in a day and placed in these plastic containers. In the background, a vent pipe to release methane from the wells.

Thursday we went to Dimock, Pa., a town that has been severely impacted by the drilling of natural gas wells. The process of hydrofracking the shale bedrock to release the natural gas involves sending hundreds of gallons of water under high pressure down into the Marcellus shale. Only the water doesn’t stay down there and at times doesn’t just crack the shale. Dozens of families in Dimock began to see changes in their well water shortly after the drilling started. These families had signed leases so that the Cabot Company could drill their land for natural gas. Many leases were signed not knowing the consequences. People signed the leases because it meant they would get money up front and royalties from any gas drilled off their land.

Little did they know that two years later they would still be fighting Cabot for clean water. The hydrofracking left the Dimock residents with methane gas and high metal concentrations in their well water. Cabot has fought tooth and nail claiming they were not responsible for the water contamination.

It was sad to see the state in which Dimock has been left by improper drilling. Many wells were improperly sealed and therefore were closed, leaving haunting remnants of wells and cemented land on what was once rolling farmland and forest. Large water and construction trucks have eaten up the small town. Not only are small towns being destroyed, but also large sections of natural areas are being torn down for truck traffic and drilling pad sites. It’s sad to think that this is how Pennsylvania developed and is headed. The continual cycling of boom and bust economies that move into areas, destroy the natural resources and move out and onto newer better resources, frankly, speaks poorly of the economies we’ve created.

While in Dimock, we watched the secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection give a speech to the press and citizens. In his speech, the Secretary mandated that Cabot pay almost $12 million to provide pipes from a town five miles down the road providing town water to the residents of Dimock whose wells were polluted by the drilling. Cabot is fighting this order tooth and nail. I wonder how the Cabot officials would feel if it were their families who were negatively affected by the drilling?

On a lighter note, we’re off to Cooperstown, N.Y., and the Onondaga Nation for the week.

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