3 Major Natural Gas Articles from David Hess – PA Environment Digest Blog

Mr. Hess served as Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection from 2001 to 2003, Executive Deputy at DEP from 1995 to 2001, as staff to the PA Senate Environmental Committee and various positions in the former Department of Environmental Resources, working on environmental issues for over 40 years.

Washington County Family Lawsuit Alleges Shale Gas Company Violated The Terms Of Their Lease By Endangering Their Health, Contaminating Their Water Supply And Not Protecting Their Land

By David E. Hess, former Secretary PA Department of Environmental Protection
PA Environment Digest Blog | November 17, 2022
Send comments to: Paenvirodigest@gmail.com

(Photo: Latkanich Farm and Chevron drill pad June 2012; View out the back door of the Latkanich home May 2013.)

On October 28, the owner of a Washington County farm– Bryan Latkanich and his three children Ryan, Hunter and Colton– filed a lawsuit against Chevron and EQT shale gas companies alleging they violated the terms of their drilling lease by endangering their health, contaminating their water supply and not protecting their land.

The legal strategy rests in part on provisions in the gas lease and multiple assurances by the oil and gas drilling company that “expressly warranted” that drilling activities “would not present a danger” to their health, that their water supply would be tested prior to drilling and “would not be adversely affected” by their operations and that the property would be “substantially preserved and undisturbed.”

Their farm includes 33 acres, a two acre lake and a custom-built farmhouse with an attached 2.5 car garage with a wraparound porch constructed in 2000.

At the time Latkanich was considering the gas lease, he and his family “never experienced any problems with water supply, air quality, emissions, noises, dust, odors or any other environmental issues impacting their health,” according to the court filing.

“I had a certain expectation that my water wouldn’t be damaged, my house wouldn’t be damaged, that this gross negligence wouldn’t go on, that they wouldn’t get fines from the DEP, that I wouldn’t be exposed to radiation, I wouldn’t be exposed to chemicals,” said Latkanich.

The company said the drilling pad would only take up three-quarters of an acre of land, Latkanich said.

Based on these assurances and promises to “take all steps necessary to abate and remediate” any harms they did cause, Bryan Latkanich signed a gas lease agreement with Chevron on December 7, 2009.

The following is the story of Bryan Latkanich and his family, based on a November 15, 2022 interview.

The Money

“When they went to sign me, they approached me and said that I was going to earn $255,000 the first three years. That’s the first approach,” said Latkanich.

Then they came back with a new offer saying they found 40 to 60 times more natural gas on his farm. “Yeah, you’re going to be a millionaire,” he quoted the company representatives as saying.

“So you’re saying I’m going to make $8 to $13 million in the first 3 years?” Latkanich asked. “Yeah. Yeah.” the company reps said.

At the time, Latkanich was recovering from major surgery.

“I [also] just got through a bad divorce. My son was born, while I was in a coma and he was taken by CYS [Child & Youth Services] … while I was in a coma,” Latkanich said. “In addition to that, I lost my job, I’m without income, and these people come into my house telling me I’m going to be a multi-millionaire within three years. I felt like I hit the lottery. So that’s where it started.”

“So I signed a contract to allow them to put the two Marcellus wells on the property,” said Latkanich.

Drilling

Latkanich said preparations for drilling “consumed my farm for about a year without producing gas in it, and I could not farm.”

He said the size of the drill pad and related infrastructure also grew from three-quarters of an acre to 18.4 acres of his 20 acre field.

“I’d never signed up for this, and I’d never agreed to the size of this pad or the placement of this pad. I never signed off. They just came in and did what they wanted,” said Latkanich.

“Because they made false promises and took my farm when they were only supposed to have a 100 by 200 foot pad, three quarters of an acre pad in the back, and the pad ended up being 1.7 acres consuming 18.4 acres of my land, which rendered my farm useless,” explained Latkanich.

“They moved over 200,000 cubic yards of earth here and built a mountain in my backyard, literally,” he said.

He said he contacted Chevron and their response was, “Well, why don’t we just give you $5 million for your 22 acres and call it a day?” And I said, “Well, why would I do that when you’re offering me $8 to $13 million on my mineral rights in the first three years?”

“So that’s how we got off onto a bad footing,” said Latkanich.

The Day That Changed Everything

“Then by December 2012, I got my first check in. It was December 17th, 2012, remember that day explicitly, it was $148 bucks. I about rolled over. I’m thinking $148,000, $200,000,” said Latkanich.

“They built this way up. So I went up there [to the drill pad] with a camera,” said Latkanich. “Now I was a cheerleader for the industry. I was up there two, three times a week hanging out in the shack, talking to everybody, wore my helmet, wore my hard hat, best friends.

“The day I showed up there on December 17th, 2012 with a camera was the day everything changed.”

“I walked up there, went into the guard shack, asked to talk to the PIC, that’s the guy that runs the pad, and I said, “I want to take some pictures.” He was, “No, no, no.” So I said, “I’m going to do it anyhow,” said Latkanich. “Well, he calls over two guys and some other big guy, big guys.

“Now I’m just out of brain surgery. I’m clinging to life at 167 pounds, I’m very frail. And those three guys put me in the middle of them and chest bumped me and bounced me around like a pinball, not allowing me on my property.”

“So I left, but I wasn’t too discouraged. I waited till they left at 4:00, 4:30, and walked up there and started taking pictures. I had no idea what I was taking pictures of, but I took random pictures.

“And it turned out that these pictures were very important, because what I took pictures of was liners ripped out of the frac pits with a trash pump down in the one frac pit with about four feet of water in it with no liner. Now this is all flowback water.”

“That’s when I started documenting everything, taking pictures of everything, saving every detail up to the point that I had a tote that weighed over 40 pounds.”

[Note: The lawsuit filing documents the compliance history of the site through DEP notices of violations.]

We Got A Problem

“By April 2013, my girlfriend gives our son a bath. He’s a toddler. She goes upstairs, gives him a bath. I’m sick on the couch. Obviously I’ve had a rough go with the brain surgery.

“And she screams at the top of her lungs, “Bryan, get up here.” It’s like, bloody murder. “What the hell’s going on? I’m just trying to relax.”

“So I walk up there, and I looked at my kid. I said, “What the hell did you do to him?

“She said, “No, it’s the water. He got in the bath fine, he came out with sores all over him, blisters.” Sores and blisters. I start blaming her automatically.

“Then I stepped in the water, and then I discovered it was the most slippery substance I’ve ever felt in my life. I couldn’t stand in it, I couldn’t do anything. I said, “We got a problem.”

He called DEP and an inspector came to his house.

“I haven’t been down the cellar because I’ve been frail. And we walk down the cellar to check the well pump and everything, and I notice my foundation’s fractured to hell and back too. I’m like, “Oh boy.”

“They [the company] focused all that water and runoff [over] unplanted [bare] ground toward my house. So it ran through my house, collapsed my foundation, pushed it in, pushed the house down the hill,” said Latkanich.

“And meanwhile, the whole [drilling] site, there’s water, always runs off down to the house and runs into the house. So I go out there to the edge of the well site. [The inspector] telling me she’s going to order a water buffalo [to provide drinking water for the home].”

“[The inspector is] standing in my yard telling me I have a problem or they [the drilling company] have a problem, but [I] have a bigger problem. She’d like to write them fines, but she has to get permission from a supervisor because she’s [one of] two people out of 6,000 wells in their area. She’s describing how they’re overwhelmed with work and they can’t get anything done. And I’m like, “This is getting to be bizarre and crazy as I’ve ever seen it,” said Latkanich, “So she leaves.”

“At that time, I took my son, girlfriend, and myself to Dr. Metz at WVU, University of Toxicologist. We get down there and we tell them what’s going on, but we have no substance,” said Latkanich. “We have no water tests, we have no air tests, we have nothing, so they really can’t do a workup other than possible exposures.”

He contacted DEP to ask about the status of any fines against Chevron and said he was told by DEP, “Well, we determined that that was rain water.”

“But I had to settle for that because it’s the DEP. I had to settle for it,” said Latkanich. “Well, we can’t drink our water. My kid’s been exposed. God knows what we’re being exposed to. My girlfriend’s hair at the time was falling out in gaggles. I had a gallon freezer bag of her hair,” said Latkanich. “And then things went south for me. I lost all the hair on my body from my neck down and became sterile.”

“By November of [2013], Chevron did a big water sample and gave us this big booklet, “Your water’s safe to drink now.” So guess what we did? We had to use our water, but we continued to have problems with our water,” said Latkanich. “And we continued to complain, complain, and complain. [And] get, “You got bacteria in your water.”

“Now how do I get bacteria? My well is 275 feet [deep]. It’s cased at 60 feet deep. It’s bentonite sealed around the case and inside the case. We had good water. This is coming in some other way.”

“So I continue to ask the DEP to do further testing. I want full suites. I want every test you can do. And I was told, “Well, we don’t have the money for that. We just look for these few items, pH and whatnot.”

“And meanwhile, the salts in my water are off the chart. It’s like sea water. We’ve never had this issue before. Bromides in the water, never had this issue before. And my son, he keeps getting rashes every time we bathe him. It’s hit and miss whether he’s going to break out in rashes,” said Latkanich.

Another Offer

“A lot went wrong. I had people from the company come to this house and tell me on the side that this is the worst job they’ve ever seen. And to protect my family, there’s only one option, is to move,” said Latkanich.

“Later, they offered me, I believe, it was $570,000 for my whole farm, which was an insult,” said Latkanich. “I have 33 acres, a 2 acre lake, full mineral rights. I had a beautiful place here, and they’re going to offer me bottom of the barrel, about what money I paid 20 years ago for it. And that wasn’t acceptable for me.”

More Problems

“During this time, my sewage backed up. Couldn’t figure it out. Why would my sewage back up during this time? Called the contractor that put the septic in. We dug it up. We found out the schedule 40 pipe into the sewage was flush up against the concrete.

“They [the company] focused all that water and runoff [over] unplanted ground toward my house. So it ran through my house, collapsed my foundation, pushed it in, pushed the house down the hill,” said Latkanich.

“The pressure on the house pushed the house forward and shoved the plastic [pipe] through the ground like a straw and forced it up against the concrete abutment inside the septic.”

More medical issues were discovered by Latkanich.

“This spring, I went and got x-rays. They thought I had lead poisoning. And the rheumatologist looked at me and said, “Have you ever been in a war?” “No.” It’s on the x-ray.

“They’re doing all the x-rays, the x-ray tech stuff. He says, “Have you ever been in a war?” I’m like, “This is getting real bizarre.”

“And so I go see my doctor and he says, “Well, we got bad news.” I said, “What’s that?” “He says, “Your kidneys are in failure. Your spleen’s in failure. That’s what’s causing the uric acid to eat your joints up. And you come down with all this arthritis. And there’s nothing more we can do. We’re going to send you to a pain specialist.”

“I didn’t want that,” said Latkanich. “So I suffer with the pain. As far as my son, he still gets rashes. He was incontinent from age five to nine. He couldn’t hold his bowels.”

In 2018, Latkanich related an incident where he forgot to take his pills with water from their bottled water cooler and used water out of the tap instead.

“I got violently ill for two days. Puking, diarrhea to the point I got delirium. I was that far out of it. They took me to the hospital,” said Latkanich. “I spent four days in the hospital, kidneys failed, spleen failed, and I got a two millimeter ulcer in my duodenum [small intestine] from one sip of water.”

PFAS And More

“There’s a lot going on here that we’ve been exposed to, especially radiation and chemicals. [They] found benzene, styrene, and other fracking chemicals in us.

“And now we found PFAS [‘forever chemicals’],” said Latkanich.

The University of Pittsburgh did water testing twice, Latkanich said, because they found extremely high levels. They thought it was a mistake.

“So the head director of the lab came out from Pittsburgh University,” said Latkanich. “And then the study came out and found out we were 300 times over EPA standards when it was done by the people that ran the lab.”

“So we’ve got a cocktail here on our place. And we’ve been exposed for years and told by the DEP back in ’14, “Oh, that’s safe to drink,”” said Latkanich. “I met with everyone from the DEP and everyone from Chevron, probably about 80 people. When they came to this house, I went to the spigot and poured a glass of water, each and every time, and set it in front of them, ask them to drink. You know how many takers I’ve had?

“Zero. That tells me all I need to know,” said Latkanich.

Why Didn’t You Move?

“I didn’t ask to move. I love my neighbors and neighborhood. This is my dream. I sit on the front porch, walk down the front lawn and fish with my kids. In the fall, we go right out our backyard and hunt, kill our deer. This is a dream.

“This was a paradise to me before they came in here. Now it’s a nightmare. And people say, “Why didn’t you sell it? Why don’t you sell it?”

“Even though the DEP and industry says, it’s fine, what I know, I couldn’t put it on somebody else. I have a conscience.

“I think God put me [in this position] to disseminate this information, so people do not make this error, ruining good farm ground for the promise of money that isn’t there.

“And then the aftereffects of what’s going to be here, a total brown fill of uselessness, it’s not worth it. Nothing here is worth it. I mean, was their greed and their money so important to off people like they’re doing, totally destroying people’s lives.”

“[I’m disabled] so I’m stuck here until we resolve this. And while we resolve this, I’m going to continue to tell the story because I know their [the company’s] MO. I want people to understand, not to get this, not to fall for it.

Timing Of Legal Action

When asked why he waited until now to file the legal action.

“It’s not that I waited till now. I tried getting other attorneys. I tried people out of New Orleans. Nothing ever worked out,” said Latkanich.

“What it is, is no attorneys want to take on a trillion dollar company. They don’t want to take this on because they have 60 attorneys on their side that are paid that will just paper them, and discover them to death, and run up millions and millions of dollars of paper.

“So no attorneys wanted to take this on. So it took a while till I finally found an attorney that was willing to risk everything to take this on.”

Conclusion

Over the life of the two Marcellus shale gas wells, Latkanich said he received approximately $134,000 in payments from Chevron. The wellhead value of those two wells to Chevron was $35,627,148.44, according to the lawsuit filing.

“I would’ve never signed if I’d heard $134,000 over 11 years, and you lose your whole place, damage your house, pollute your water, and you’re sick,” said Latkanich.

“They don’t go through the process of telling you what chemicals they’re using. That’s a trade secret. They don’t tell you that this is all radioactivity that they’re drilling through. And when that drill goes through, it’s putting it in the air and you’re subject to it.

“They don’t tell you that these frac pits that sit here for over a year, in weather, 200 yards from your house, are leaching out volatile organic compounds and radioactivity.

“They don’t tell you this. They prey on your ignorance. It took a lot of years just to figure out what’s going on here,” said Latkanich.

Click Here for a copy of the lawsuit filing for much more detail.

For photos, maps and news reports related to this case, visit Bob Donnan’s Blog.

Related NewsClips – Latkanich Farm:

— Bob Donnan Blog/WTAE: Washington County Family Files Landmark Lawsuit Over Hazardous Chemicals And Chevron/EQT Shale Gas Drilling 

— WTAE: Lawsuit By Washington County Homeowner Says Fracking Caused PFAS ‘Forever Chemicals’ To Contaminate His Drinking Water  

— Pittsburgh Business Times: Washington County Family Sues Chevron, EQT Over Shale Gas Well Pads Near House

— Environmental Health News: Fractured: Distrustful Of Frackers, Abandoned By Regulators

— Environmental Health News: PFAS – The Latest Toxic Concern For Those Near Fracking

[Posted: November 17, 2022]  PA Environment Digest

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Shale Gas & Public Health Conference: We’ve Got Enough Compelling Evidence to Enact Health Protective Policies for Families Now

By Edward C. Ketyer, M.D., President, Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania

(Photo: Dr. Ketyer and examples of shale gas infrastructure.)

These remarks were delivered at the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health 2022 Shale Gas & Public Health Conference on November 16, 2022–

So I want to thank the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania for inviting me here today. It’s nice to be back. 

As we do at this conference every year, yesterday we learned about some of the recent studies showing how fracking threatens the health and safety of Pennsylvanians who live and work nearby fracking activities. 

Danger from fracking is no secret to those of us who read these studies or who live near frac gas development or have seen or experienced firsthand the illnesses, the damaged property, and the distressing polarization of residents living in small and most of the rural communities across the state where fracking operates.

It seems like every week there’s a new study highlighting how fracking damages the environment and harms human health, especially the health of those who are most vulnerable, like the poor, the frail, pregnant women and their children. 

Depressing question is, is anybody surprised? And if so, why? 

It’s no secret that the ingredients associated with drilling and fracking are dangerous when they contaminate the air and the water and the soil. 

And no one should be surprised when workers and residents who are exposed to fracking’s toxic chemicals and radioactive waste start getting sick with a variety of sometimes common, sometimes weird, and sometimes, often debilitating and deadly illnesses. 

Doctors, nurses, and other health professionals aren’t surprised. We know how dangerous fracking is, that it’s not a secret. 

The eighth edition of the Fracking Science Compendium contains more than 2,200 research studies, medical and media findings, and government reports revealing no evidence, zero, that fracking, can be practiced in a manner that does not threaten human health directly, or that does not imperil climate stability upon which human health depends.

The industry knows by the way, they know how dangerous their operations are. 

Look at their annual SEC [U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission] filing where they warn investors in graphic detail about blowouts and cratering, explosions, uncontrollable flows of natural gas or well fluids polluting surface and groundwater, fires, pipe and cement failures, pipeline ruptures, spills, and releases of toxic gases. 

Apparently, drilling is just the beginning. Public safety and emergency management agencies in Pennsylvania, they know how dangerous fracking is. 

Washington County’s hazard mitigation report warns about catastrophic incidents and worse case scenarios from explosions and fires that could kill hundreds of people and overwhelm local EMS services and hospitals with the influx of casualties. 

They cite common accidents of blowouts, explosions, and chemical contamination with chemicals that are used in fracking that have the potential to cause a danger to health and to life itself.

And as fracking activity increases, so does the likelihood of an incident and an accident. 

As Lena [Smith, Policy and Legislation Director for Rep. Rick Krajewski (D-Philadelphia)] just told us, Pennsylvania grand jury listened to hours of testimony and learned how dangerous fracking is releasing a scathing report in 2020 about how fracking has harmed the health of Pennsylvania citizens time and again in its report.  [Read more here.]

The grand jury kept returning to the fact that fracking was injuring children the most. I don’t think there’s anybody left actually, who thinks fracking is safe.

Eliza Griswold won a Pulitzer Prize for Amity and Prosperity. Her story of residents severely impacted in Washington County, which is Pennsylvania’s most heavily fracked county where I live, and I’ve worked for more than 30 years. 

Her story should have been enough to make policy makers and lawmakers stop and think again about the wisdom of fracking in Pennsylvania. 

Is it surprising that contaminates detected in air and water samples near fracking sites also show up in the blood and urine of families living, learning, and playing nearby? 

Kristina Marusic’s award-winning investigation last year demonstrated exposure to dangerous chemicals and pollution in adults and children living near fracking infrastructure in Pennsylvania. 

Justin Noble spoke at this conference three years ago and told us that America’s radioactive secret isn’t so secret anymore.  [Read more here]

In fact, geologists have known for many decades that the Marcellus Shale is highly radioactive, and that bringing up all that radiation to the surface and allowing it to contaminate the air and water isn’t such a good idea after all.

Last year at this Conference, I filled you in on Dusty Horwitt’s report for PSR about PFAS chemicals being used in drilling and fracking operations across the country.   [Read more here]

PFAS chemicals are also known as “forever chemicals” because their chemical structures are incredibly stable and they don’t break down over time. Instead, they persist in the environment and bioaccumulate in all life forms, including humans. 

Very small concentrations can disrupt the endocrine system and the immune system, and it raises cancer risk in people who are exposed. 

Dusty discovered that PFAS chemicals and their precursors were used in at least 1,200 fracked oil and gas wells in six states on the Gulf Coast and out west. 

The chemicals may have been used more widely than that, but trade secret exemptions claimed by the industry make it difficult to measure the true extent of PFAS in fracking. 

Last January, PSR published another study that found that PFAS chemicals and precursors were used in more than 12,000 oil and gas wells in Colorado since at least 2008, and probably much longer than that.  [Read more here]

And then in September, PSR reported that PFAS chemicals were used in more than 100 oil and gas wells in Ohio.  [Read more here]

Another route of exposure was revealed at 245 injection disposal sites where Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania send their toxic and radioactive fracking wastewater.

 So what about Pennsylvania? The Philadelphia Inquirer did its own investigation last year and found that PFAS chemicals were used in at least eight Pennsylvania fracking wells. [Read more here]

The editorial board wrote that our findings should raise concerns for all Pennsylvanians. 

Last month, these locations in Pennsylvania, the eight fracking wells were identified by Kristina Marusic at Environmental Health News.  Four of those wells are in Washington County.  [Read more here]

We heard yesterday from Dr. Cassandra Clark [Yale Cancer Center and Yale School of Public Health] about her team’s recent jaw-dropping study on acute lymphoblastic leukemia and young children having two to three times the risk of developing this rare cancer if they grow up close to fracking wells in Pennsylvania.  [Read more here]

The local media mostly ignored this story, though I don’t think even they were very surprised, especially not after publishing the Human Toll series by David Templeton and Don Hopey in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from 2008 to 2018 in four heavily fracked counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania. 

The two reporters uncovered 27 cases of Ewing sarcoma, which is a very rare and frequently fatal bone cancer in childhood. And they found another 40 cases of other rare cancers for a total of 67 rare cancers in children, teenagers, and young adults. 

Now, only about 200 cases of Ewing sarcoma are diagnosed in the United States every year. In heavily fracked Washington County, six cases of Ewing sarcoma and 30 other rare childhood cancers were counted.

These numbers are far more than would be expected to occur in a similarly populated, mostly rural area over a 10 year time period. And new cases keep popping up in this region. 

Parents and pediatricians are very concerned that pollution and toxic waste from fracking operations may be to blame for this outbreak of rare childhood cancers.

In 2019, 6 months after the “Human Toll” was published, I had the chance to go to the state House [of Representatives] along with dozens of concerned and impacted community members, and we spoke with Governor Wolf and with other lawmakers and demanded a thorough and transparent investigation into the cause of these rare pediatric cancers. 

Four days later, Governor Wolf announced the creation of two studies that are now being conducted by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. [Read more here]

Results from these studies are going to be released soon and more studies are ongoing elsewhere, but there’s already enough evidence, much of it known beyond a reasonable doubt, for us to make other arrangements that don’t cause so much damage to the environment and to the planet’s climate system, damage to public health and people’s lives, damage to the communities where we live, where some families have lived for generations.

We know enough now to enact health protective policies for everyone, our families, our friends, our neighbors, instead of wealth-protecting policies for the few we will never likely ever meet. 

Every adult, every parent and grandparent knows that children live in a world shaped by our choices. 

It’s no secret we’ve got enough compelling evidence to start making better choices right now. 

Thank you for listening and I’m going to turn this back over to Jackie.

*******

Visit the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health 2022 Shale Gas & Public Health Conference webpage for more information on the Conference. Presentations from the Conference will be posted online in the coming weeks for on-demand viewing.

Dr. Edward Ketyer is a Pittsburgh-area pediatrician. Dr. Ketyer enjoyed 26 years in private practice before retiring from patient care in 2017, although he continues to write a daily blog for AHN Pediatrics called The PediaBlog. He remains a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Environmental Health and Climate Change and is President of Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania. Dr. Ketyer is Medical Advisor for the Environmental Health Project bringing attention to the health impacts of fracking in the Marcellus Shale gas patch. He is also Chairman of the Education and Outreach Workgroup for the Cancer & Environment Network of Southwestern Pennsylvania

[Posted: November 16, 2022]  PA Environment Digest

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Shale Gas & Public Health Conference: When It Started, It Was Kind Of Nice, But What Happened Afterwards Really Kind Of Devastated Our Community

By Rev. Wesley Silva, former Council President Marianna Borough, Washington County, PA

(Photos: Top- Rev. Wesley Silva; Example of truck traffic through Borough; Bottom- Main road closed, noise survey- red is bad.)

These remarks were delivered at the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health 2022 Shale Gas & Public Health Conference on November 16, 2022–

Hello everyone, and thank you for this opportunity to speak before you. As you can see, Marianna Borough has suffered its hard times. A bunch of different things happened through time with the mine explosion and it devastated Marianna.  [Read more here]

But as a community, it still managed to thrive. It lost businesses, it lost a lot of residential traffic, commercial traffic, things like that. 

So when I was on council, EQT [natural gas company] came to the forefront and they were talking about what they’d like to do with the communities and how they’d like to help better communities, create projects, and do things to benefit the residents of the community. 

Well, when it started, it was kind of nice. They got into the local parade, they got into a couple of functions, we saw their banners. 

But what happened afterwards really kind of devastated our community.

What had happened is we began to see a lot of issues at our meetings. They would be very disruptive, they’d bring in different groups and organizations to fight with us and throw out different arguments, disrupt our meetings so that we couldn’t continue in a lot of cases. 

We formed with our neighboring community, West Bethlehem Township, a joint committee to work together on trying to set up setbacks and different things of that nature so that we could better control how the fracking towers, or fracking sites, or compressor stations would be located, so it’d be less intrusive to a lot of the residents that live in our communities.

One of the things that I did take very seriously is the fact that once we’re sworn in, we’re sworn to look out for the better interests of our community. 

We’re sworn to look out for the governing presence of our community and not to be overshadowed by a lot of hand shaking and money changing. 

So in that position, I was taking it very seriously because I had learned through Lois Bjornson [Clean Air Council] and several others about fracking and what it actually does, and I became really curious. 

So I started to go to some of the communities where fracking was already up and running.

And EQT was gracious enough to give us a tour of some of their sites. But I wanted to go one step further. 

So what I did was I actually turned around and I went to other communities, smaller communities, much similar to Marianna Borough, and just see how fracking was working for them. 

And the council members there were great. They invited me to come out and see what was going on. 

We met, and for the smaller communities or impoverished communities, it just seemed like there was no end to what was going on. 

The roads were a mess. Homes were being… Either foundations were shifting, there was a lot of noise pollution, there were a lot of motors, there was a lot of light pollution, and it all depended on the community that was there. 

So in this instance, and my argument is to just make everybody aware what it is actually like to have a fracking unit, a fracking site, or a compressor station in your areas. 

Now here, if you look at the slide, this is actually Marianna Dam. And just above, which would be the bottom portion of your screen, is our main road going back and forth from the borough. 

What you see in the water is actually a landslide. 

The first time the slide happened, our road was actually closed. So it had turned around and closed the road for about four or five months, which wasn’t so bad. 

But then it turned around and it came back and it really bit us where the road was closed for almost a year, the second time when this slide happened.

Now here we have a road that Marianna Borough actually had to close because the well [drilling] pad that was actually located directly across, or in this case to the right of the road closed sign, had invaded our floodplain, and started pushing the water toward the land in the borough. 

Now what happened next took us all by surprise. 

Here, if you look at the guardrail where you see the growth over behind the guardrail, all that is actually what grew up from the landslide. 

The landslide actually cleared everything from that point back. To the point where it started to eat away at our road surface. And it was devastating to our community because we had to close that road. 

The fire department came in and told us that it was going to be a real health and safety liability, and that road should be closed. 

Now for us, that is our main thoroughfare in and out of the borough. So to close it caused all the traffic to go to some of the side roads, which of course made a lot of our residents very upset. 

They came to the meetings complaining about the volume of traffic that was coming through their neighborhoods. Potholes were developing, different things were happening.

Now, we brought out a surveyor to come and take a look and see if we were going to lose more of the road surface. While they were there doing depth samples, the roadway actually gave out and we lost another three or four feet from the road surface due to them using their equipment. 

Now with that being said, all along that strip, if you look at the picture in the right, you can see how the guardrail goes all the way down. The land has continued to shift, and is still shifting today, from the point where the picture is, all the way down. 

We lose approximately two to three feet about a week, and it’s pushing towards the creek surface.

Unfortunately, the growth here has grown up to cover what had happened down below. But what you’re seeing right now, these plants have grown over six to seven feet. If you go down to their roots, there’s nothing there. And if you cleared that out, you could look straight down to our creek now. 

And here is something else that we didn’t plan on, that we encountered. 

What you’re looking at is a survey based on the noise levels, as far as the impact that it has on Marianna Borough. 

Now, if you look at the blue areas, this would be our creek. So you can see that a lot of the impact there is going forth and causing problems just with noise in that area. But as you start to move into the purplish and pink areas, you start to see the noise level actually increases. 

The reason why this is, is because our community is actually above the fracking site, the well pad. And then if you look, you’ll see the red areas, that is actually where the noise is the heaviest, the highest, the loudest. 

And those people actually came in and experienced heavy vibrations, the constant whirring sound of the drill, the equipment idling, the trucks dieseling.

So up here was where a lot of the residents were deeply affected by the noise levels. And we spoke to EQT about the noise levels and different things like this, and their solution was to put up a paper mache wall. 

Now if you look at their well pad in the center, they sit in like a petri dish. Where you see all the red on the outer edges is the land mass above their well pad. So it wasn’t very comfortable for a lot of our residents. 

We had a number of complaints about different disturbances. The light even traveled up to some of these homes so that it was so bright that it was disturbing their sleep patterns. It was causing a lot of issues. 

And during [natural gas] flare times where they would release exhaust flame into the air, that whole area that you see in red, it would look like it was daylight.

Now, if you look at this grid, it is showing how a lot of these areas would be negatively impacted by the drilling. Now, if you look at the red area again, you can see that a lot of the noise is calculated as not being as troublesome or intrusive to a lot of our neighbors. 

This was presented to us when we started to question their decibels as far as their equipment, as far as their trucks idling, as far as the equipment moving. And they presented this to us and said, “Well, this is where you’re at right now.” 

And we actually had a big problem trying to convince them that it was in fact like the first graph, up into many of the homes in that area.

Now, if you look at the map, you’ll see a blueish line. This is actually the separation in the creek, in regards to Marianna Borough. Marianna Borough sits to the upper left and Bethlehem Townships sits to the lower right. 

Now with our meetings, we managed to pass the ordinance that would offer setbacks and relief for our neighbors and the residents of Marianna Borough. And due to conflict at the township’s meeting, West Bethlehem Township suffered a gross defeat as EQT came in with rounds of lawyers and tons of paperwork, which allowed them to get into the community.

If you look at the lower left hand corner, that is where the pad was installed. And just up to the upper right where it says Morgan Township, that would be what it looks like for Marianna Borough. 

They sat at a spot where you could actually see it, and it was really kind of devastating for us. 

I took my children to the [school] bus stop in the mornings, you could actually see when the winter foliage had gone, you could actually see the frack pad. You could actually hear the noise, you could see the flarings. 

And this being only hundreds of feet away from our children, less than 1,500 feet. 

The noise was increased, the vibrations were increased. There were odors at the bus stop. And these kids, I would say were in about 650 feet distance in relation to the pad.

After I had resigned as Council President, one of the council members who had been rooting for the fracking company to take place and was buying on the guys that they would come in and they would bring jobs to the community, they would help the community out. 

They would rebuild what this community had lost many years ago. 

And if you see the truck in the background there, that is actually a brine truck. Now the brine, from time to time, these trucks may leak. They do leave residue behind. 

Now we’ve had two rows of trucks in this mine yard at one point in time, side by side, they stretch about quarter to a half a mile. 

So you have all these trucks dealing in our borough. They’re traveling over our bridges, they’re fully weighted down. 

Our bridges were geared toward very safe and neutral automobile traffic, nothing as heavy as the equipment that you see right here. And if you get two or three of these trucks in the line coming across a very small bridge, they grossly exceed the weight capacity of that bridge. Next slide please.

This is just a peek at some of the equipment that actually traveled up and down our main road that had our road closed for close to a year. And you can see the tankers, the equipment that they’re hauling, sometimes they’re at capacity. 

There is actually fluid in those canisters, so they may come in full and leave empty, but the weight that’s placed on the road really devastates communities and creates a lot of excess residue. 

Some from the trucks, some from just the tearing apart of the road’s infrastructure.

Here we were on a different location and we were just kind of following around, I was with EHP [Environmental Health Project] and Lois Bjornson and Clean Air Council where we saw them actually working. 

They stopped working to look at us, and then after a little while of being observed by us, they went back to work. 

But a lot of these things were happening in our neighbor’s backyards. The trucks would come in because now they have the right of way, and they were just very disturbing and intrusive.

This is the pad that brought a lot of grief to our community. This is the pad where, if you looked at it, you could see from its location that it would be very, very disturbing. 

From any point in the borough, you could actually look across and you could see the rigging, because it extended above the tree line in our community.

Now, in the center and the right, you can see how their rigging works. We weren’t aware how fracking actually worked, and it took a lot for our council board to investigate, look into what fracking actually was. 

And we came across this information in our travels by talking to some of the other communities, talking to people that were troubled by fracking. So we actually obtained information like this. 

And when you’re looking at it doesn’t look like it’s all too intrusive because it’s so far underground. 

But the truth of the matter is, it does cause land shifts, land masses to move, it causes a lot of breakaway. And the vibration from the equipment actually affects houses within about a mile radius of wherever the rig is.

Here’s our council room. And where the council members would meet is along that table. This room was actually filled to capacity with people trying to allow us, or trying to persuade us to allow fracking to happen in our community. 

To allow jobs to take place and communities to build on what was happening and potentially make what is a more sustainable and more healthy community strength behind having the fracking power in there. 

What actually wound up happening is only three people were hired in our community and their jobs were simple. 

They were to communicate with the trucks and guide them in and out of that well pad. And that was it. 

Thank you Mark, and thank you all for listening. Have a good day.

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Visit the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health 2022 Shale Gas & Public Health Conference webpage for more information on the Conference. Presentations from the Conference will be posted online in the coming weeks for on-demand viewing.

Rev. Wesley Silva, Former Council President, Marianna Borough, Washington County, a municipality with just over 500 residents in a total area of two square miles.  He is also the current Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Smock.

[Posted: November 16, 2022]  PA Environment Digest

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