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
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 peak 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.
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.
(Photos: Top- Rev. Wesley Silva; Example of truck traffic through Borough; Bottom- Main road closed, noise survey- red is bad.)
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.
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[Posted: November 16, 2022]
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