When my first Donnan ancestor emigrated to America, he chose Hickory in Washington County, Pennsylvania as his new family home. It’s been said the reason so many Scotch-Irish immigrants settled in southwestern Pennsylvania is that it reminded them of their Scottish homeland.
Rev. Alexander Donnan served as the second pastor at Mt Pleasant United Presbyterian church, which was then situated near the present day Mt. Pleasant Community Center on Wabash Avenue.
While things were much different in Hickory when Alexander arrived 201 years ago (1817), they were also very much the same. In 1796, George Washington praised the Mt. Pleasant area with this description in his journal:
“The soil is of excellent quality, rich, level,
well timbered, and well watered.”
Washington County was once the top wool producer in the United States, but few ever saw it becoming one of our nation’s top natural gas producers, even though the Alexander McGugin well should have given everyone a clue.
Crumrine’s History of Mt Pleasant describes it this way:
“On this farm an experimental oil well has been sunk. A depth of 1800 ft. was reached when there commenced a very strong flow of gas which accidentally took fire, and has not yet (July 1, 1882) been extinguished. The light can be seen at night for a distance of 20 miles.”
Alexander McGugin’s grandfather David was the first settler to Mt. Pleasant Township, and as they say, the rest is history. 128 years later, gas well flares once again lit the night skies of Mt. Pleasant Township for miles around.
The historical plaque for the McGugin well, once situated along Route 18, disappeared shortly before Marcellus Shale gas drilling boom began.
The Hickory area became part of history once again. The first two Marcellus Shale gas wells, signaling the latest natural gas boom, were drilled within a couple miles of Hickory.
The first Marcellus Shale gas well was the Renz Well on Sabo Road near Westland, and the second was Gulla #9 off McCarrell Road just south of Hickory.
Some recent forecasts indicate that 50,000 new wells will be drilled over the next 25 years in Pennsylvania, creating justifiable concerns about declining air and water quality in the region moving forward.
Our region is still trying to recover from all the legacy pollution created by extensive coal mining in the past century and this latest boom is likely to create additional environmental issues on an even larger scale.
One of the greatest problems and concerns is what to do with the millions of gallons of toxic flowback fluids that return from each gas well after being hydraulically fractured or "fracked."
Other concerns relate to air quality since each well requires over 1,000 diesel truck trips, adding to our region's challenging issues related to PM2.5 air pollution. Meantime, the Pennsylvania Constitution guarantees citizens "clean air and pure water."
It's easy to feel that our county, and our country, is rapidly moving backwards in this latest rush for fossil fuels, especially considering how much ethane from this shale gas drilling will be "cracked" into plastics which are already polluting the oceans and the globe.
We've "been there, done that" with fossil fuels and should learn from the past, instead of quickly legislating to erase decades of sensible environmental regulations that give our grandchildren's families a chance of inhabiting a less polluted Earth, instead of one facing further climate catastrophes caused by global warming.
It's time to make some life-saving decisions for future generations and focus on further research and development of renewables like wind and solar power.
The clock is ticking, Miami and Paris are flooding, and our only home needs your help.
After all, there is no "Plan(et) B."
Next month, we'll be installing solar panels on the roof of our home, as well as a battery backup system, to provide some degree of energy independence and security while reducing our carbon footprint. Please join us!