Shale isn’t the only thing that’s getting fractured in this region. Communities are too, as last night’s talk at the Vestal American Legion illustrated. Pulteney (NY) farmers-turned-filmmakers Jeff and Jodi Andrysick have been presenting a traveling roadshow in the Marcellus region - a program of stories from those living in the Colorado drill zone.
Huge pickups plastered with banners thanking drilling supporters for “being American” lined the driveway, and members of the Joint Landowners Coalition stood about holding “Friends of Natural Gas” signs. The stories of contamination are just lies and belong in tabloids alongside tales of alien encounters, they insist. Inside the Legion Hall they settled onto folding chairs behind equally passionate residents holding “no frack” signs and hand-lettered posters declaring their need for water, not gas.
Tara Meixsell, author of Collateral Damage said the gas boom changed her life. Colorado law allows drilling as close as 150 feet to homes, a distance that exposes families to dust and chemicals. Some of those chemicals, such as 2-Butoxyethanol (2-BE), are carcinogenic. Meixsell shared stories about friends and neighbors who suffered ill health from exposure.
Drilling is about more than gas – it’s about money and people’s lives, Meixsell said. Citing a confrontation earlier that evening in the parking lot, she implored people to be civil to one another. Respect each other’s opinions, she said. “You have to remain neighbors… at the end of the day you’re all breathing the same air and drinking the same water.”
Colorado rancher Rick Roles told how drilling affected his horses and goats. He leased his land because he thought it would bring the ranch much-needed income. Now he’s got 19 "holes" on his land and another 100 wells within a mile of his home – plus three compressor stations and a water treatment plant within a mile and a half.
He listed numerous problems: mares aborting foals, studs becoming sterile, goats having stillbirths, and his own health problems. He also spoke of how spills were covered up with dirt instead of reported, and a persistently leaking condensate tank. When Roles finally got a toxicology screen he discovered high levels of benzene, toluene, xylene and a long list of related chemicals in his blood.
“Sure, we earned a little money,” Roles said. “But our property was ruined.”
The goal of last evening’s program was to allow those suffering negative impacts of gas to share their stories. But it was clear that some people, a minority to be sure, came with no intention of listening to what the speakers had to say. When the question-and-answer session grew contentious [“frack-tious” one person called it] moderator Don Glauber reminded people to be civil.
“I don’t know how many of you came here with your minds made up, or with anger in your hearts, but that’s not why we’re here tonight,” he said. Referring to acrimonious comments Glauber said, “This is why we have had so much trouble talking openly, honestly and safely.”