Small groups of residents don’t have great track records in fighting well-funded energy companies and money-hungry city governments. But the Westchester group has won some impressive victories, though none came easily. They pushed for a stronger drilling ordinance, and the city council eventually adopted one.
The group’s work resulted in one frack pond — a large manmade pool of water ready for drillers’ use — being moved farther away from houses and another being stopped before it was built. The city’s new ordinance banned the ponds within city limits altogether.
The alliance’s vigorous protests also helped stop a gas collection line that would have been close to area homes. As a direct result of their opposition, four drilling sites — including two on which Chesapeake had already paid out lease bonuses to more than 1,000 people — were stopped before drilling began.
Reed and Read said that oil and gas companies resorted to dirty tactics, including planting people in town hall meetings to speak up against the moratorium on drilling near a dam.
The city wasn’t much better, the activists said. They accused officials of withholding information and refusing to listen to residents.
“The only time we got to speak our piece was five minutes every two weeks at city council meetings,” said Reed.
The council member for Westchester, Ron Jensen, now the city’s mayor, recused himself from voting on matters related to the Corn Valley pad site, because of his association with the church that owned the property.
“We had no representation from him, because he had to exclude himself from everything having to do with gas drilling,” said Reed.
When Chesapeake built an enormous frack pond to hold water for the Corn Valley wells, the edge of it reached within 10 feet of her house, Reed said.
When she couldn’t get the city to pay attention, she “took pictures and made 8-by-10 copies, and I put it in each one of [city council’s] mailboxes,” she said.
“It got their attention,” she said. “After a meeting that night, [then-Mayor Charles England] said ‘I want you to know I did not vote for this.’ I said, ‘Yes, you did, because you let your staff do all of the investigative work and then you signed off on everything.’ ”
She said that she thought about giving up at times. “We’d done everything we knew how to do, and they just beat you down,” she said. “It was just an ongoing battle. The more we did, the more money [Chesapeake] would throw at it.”
Reed said she’s happy about what the group got done but doesn’t see herself squaring off against energy companies and the city anytime soon.
“I’ll do what I can to help, but I don’t have it in me to go start a fight all over again,” she said. “It was very emotional. The whole time my husband would say, ‘You’re wasting your time. You’re never going to win against oil and gas.’
“I take great pleasure in telling him, ‘I told you so.’ ”