Down on the Farm 2020

Local 128-acre farm, one that belonged to a Pennsylvania family for over 100 years, was auctioned-off yesterday.

A quick aerial view of that farm on Google Maps shows the gray gravel blotches of two gas well pads, one-mile or less, from the edge of the auctioned farm property. Below is a photo of the entrance sign to one of those well pads.

Well pads have ended up much closer to homes, since Pennsylvania regulations allow the actual wellhead to be just 500 feet away, while the edge of the pad can end up much closer, as we recently saw at the B50 well pad in Economy Borough next to Orchard Estates.

Left: Drilling wells on Trax Farm close to a neighborhood in Union Township.
Right: Edge of well pad close to home in Economy Borough.

Nottingham Township

The auctioned farm is in heavily-drilled Nottingham Township, with similar frequently-fracked townships to the east (Union Township) and west (North Strabane Township). Frackers have so far side-stepped Peters Township to the north, even though well laterals that are several miles long, will reach beneath Peters Township. The winning bid on the farm was by a developer who typically builds high-end housing plans with $500,000 to $800,000 homes.

Image: Gas well pad permitted in Nottingham Township, a few miles from the auctioned farm.

One mile apart, super-sized, or both?

Some new well pad locations continue to be spaced about one-mile apart in our area, while there are also some super-sized well pads planned for the local area containing 40 or more wells, as opposed to the original Marcellus Shale 6 wells to a pad. Drillers have returned to some of their existing well pads to drill new wells, since the infrastructure (road, pad and gathering pipeline) is already in place.

Image: Permitting diagram of the 52 wells planned for the Mingo Pad in Union Township.

Core farm acreage in this century’s
“Marcellus Shale Gasland.”

An overview of Washington County Recorder of Deeds document summaries on Landex turned up a long list of neighbors’ names on some of those documents (which likely indicates the gas rights to this farm have alredy been leased) as well as a couple drilling and gas pipeline company documents (which likely means pipeline right-of-ways were also sold) and even a couple coal mining companies appear in yet other documents.

‘Leave no fossil fuel behind!’

After all, this is a region well-known for its harvesting of fossil fuels! There was even coal strip mine somewhere near that farm a few years ago. “Leave no fossil fuel behind” the rallying cry!

In local business bragging fashion, one Chamber of Commerce likes to call our county “THE ENERGY CAPITAL OF THE EAST.” They have wet gas dreams about our region becoming a petrochemical hub!

But what can that mean for residents?

The first thing that comes to mind when seeing how close that auctioned farm is to gas well sites is research done by Dr. Lisa McKenzie at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, who will once again be a speaker at the 8th Annual “Shale and Public Health” conference in Pittsburgh, that will be held virtually this year on November 17th and 18th. Here is the video link to her 2019 presentation and a few of the slides:

Congenital Heart Defects, Cardiovascular Disease, and Unconventional Gas Development
Lisa McKenzie PhD MPH, Assistant Research Professor, Colorado School Public Health

Babies Born Near Oil and Gas Wells Are Up to 70% More Likely to Have Congenital Heart Defects, New Study Shows
Researchers at the University of Colorado studied pregnant women who are among the 17 million Americans living within a mile from an active oil or gas well. Proximity to oil and gas sites makes pregnant mothers up to 70 percent more likely to give birth to a baby with congenital heart defects, according to a new study. Led by Dr. Lisa McKenzie at the University of Colorado, researchers found that the chemicals released from oil and gas wells can have serious and potentially fatal effects on babies born to mothers who live within a mile of an active well site—as about 17 million Americans do. The researchers studied more than 3,000 newborns who were born in Colorado between 2005 and 2011.

Julia Conley – Common Dreams – July 19, 2019
Ewing Sarcoma Study

Local residents are also anxiously awaiting results from a state health study to determine why our county has had a higher than normal number of cases of Ewing Sarcoma. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporters David Templeton and Don Hopey have written numerous stories on that subject.

Are the 27 cases of Ewing sarcoma near Pittsburgh a cluster?
With one case per 1 million population, Ewing sarcoma is rare. Yet, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has counted 27 cases over the past decade — 2008 to 2018 —  in Washington, Greene, Fayette and Westmoreland counties, which combined have a population of about 750,000. The four-county area actually has had 27 cases, more than three times that expected rate. The late Luke Blanock, Curtis Valent and Kyle Deliere, all residents of Cecil Township in Washington County, were good athletes, as is Mitchell Barton, a 21-year-old North Strabane man undergoing chemotherapy for Ewing. The two other cases within school district boundaries include Alyssa Chambers, 28, now of Shaler, and David Cobb, 38, diagnosed in June 2018 and living near Southpointe business park in Cecil Township.

David Templeton and Don Hopey – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – May 14, 2019

Luke Blanock’s mother, family and friends seek an answer.
Blog: Ignoring Gas Patch Kids

Bottom line: There’s not always much you can do when oil and gas operations move in next door, but make sure you do your ‘due diligence’ when buying a house or any vacant land.

MORE: Compressor station regrets for Washington County Pa.

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