When the land men came bearing gas-well leases, nearly all of Fort Worth fell under their spell. The drilling would be a boon to the city, the county, the state. Rigs would be set up and then disappear in no time. Heck, we’d hardly know they had been here. Oh, and we’d all be getting monthly mailbox money for 30 to 50 years. Step right up and sign on the dotted line.
And then the drilling started. We watched as our streets crumbled under the weight of trucks carrying water infused with poisons. Many of us were sickened by the toxic and carcinogenic fumes produced by both the drilling and, later, the leaking finished wells. A lot of people could only watch as their property values diminished because their houses sat next to gas wells, compressor stations, and other gas infrastructure. A lot of us know people who have had animals die from poisoned wells or on-site leaks. Injection wells have caused earthquakes in several parts of the city. The whole of Fort Worth sits atop aging gas lines that could one day explode. And the worst part is that we, as a community, have learned that the gas well companies knew what we were in for and purposely didn’t let us know. And they were ruthless. People were an inconvenience. Health was a non-issue.
When the wells of three families in Hill County went bad in 2008 from a gas leak into the Trinity Woodbine aquifer — so bad that several large farm animals died from drinking it — the gas company responsible vehemently denied it before buying those properties and forcing the owners to sign non-disclosure agreements. When Alisa Rich, the environmental scientist who owns Wolf Eagle Environmental, showed a connection between drilling and the poisoning of Steve Lipsky’s wells in Parker County in 2010, the gas companies tried to destroy her career.
The same techniques used by the gas well companies in Fort Worth and the rest of the Barnett Shale were used in every other community where shale deposits were found. Lots of promises, lots of lies, and lots of non-disclosure agreements.
Not every voice has been silenced, however. In 2012, a volunteer nonprofit group of concerned citizens called Friends of the Harmed began to collect stories from people whose lives were adversely affected by shale drilling and compiled them in two small volumes. Published in Homestead, Penn., in 2014 and 2015, Shalefield Stories, Vols. 1 and 2 represents the voices of tens of thousands, perhaps millions, of people who have felt the direct impact of the gas drilling boom. Below is a small selection of them. For more, visit friendsoftheharmed.com. –– Peter Gorman
former mayor of Dish, Texas
Imagine finding your dream home in the country, a place that you can raise your family in peace and quiet, with room to roam and raise horses to ride. You invest your life savings into this home, because it is the place you have waited your entire life to own. You spend the next several years remodeling, building fences, constructing barns for the horses, and making this place exactly where you want to spend the rest of your life.
Now imagine a company moving in next door against the will of everyone in the area, including the owners of the property that [the company is] developing. On this heavy industrial site, there will be over a dozen massive engines that create massive amounts of noise and odor, so the quiet country community that you moved to is quiet no more. No more sitting outside for the cool Texas evenings that we enjoyed during the spring and fall and no more enjoying the beautiful Texas sunsets. Now the only thing you hear outside is 3,500 horsepower engines roaring 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
If that were all, the situation would be bad enough, but then heavy industrial equipment has to remove the impurities from the natural gas that they process and move out into the pipelines with their massive compressor engines. They take the liberty of releasing these impurities in the air around your dream home, which causes a noxious odor like many could not imagine. If the unbearable noise were not enough, the odor makes it so you cannot stand to be outside, and unfortunately the odors creep into the house through the vents, so you have no place to hide. You wake up one day and realize that the quiet country living that you moved to is now a dirty, noisy, and smelly industrial zone. You may as well be living next to a refinery or chemical factory on the Gulf Coast.
If that were all, the situation would be horrible, but then realize that when the odor is at its strongest your children get massive nosebleeds. Imagine the realization that comes when you realize that the natural gas processing facility and compressor station are releasing carcinogens and neurotoxins, and that is what is causing your children to have nosebleeds. Then comes that moment when you realize that you can no longer live in your dream home. To protect the health of your children, you are forced to move away, take your kids away from their school and friends, and give up your dream.
You may think that what I have just described could not happen in America, but it does, and it is happening every day. You will also think that there is no way this will happen to you, but I personally know hundreds of families in the same situation. If you live in the middle of a natural gas field, this will happen to somebody, and it may be you. That is unless you stand up and choose to do something to prevent it.
Nancy Heinrich Bevins, mother of a young man killed doing gas field work
As people skeptical of the gas industry, we are used to bad news. We shake our heads knowingly when we hear about another illegal dumping of frack waste. We scribble pages of statistics, as the scientific community publishes newer findings of the dangerous health risks related to horizontal drilling. We pass reports, through social networks, of semi-truck wrecks, explosions, and the destruction of country roads. It is very easy to find ourselves in a frack pit of despair, apprehensive that the next article will be the one to finally knock us permanently on our backs, but there is a less talked about risk in fracking circles. It is an aspect many ignore.
After all, no one is forced to put on a hard hat, just as no one is forced to sign a lease with a gas company. If the industry can lie and deceive a landowner, couldn’t they just as easily lie and deceive an employee? Or worse, poison, endanger, and threaten him or her? Even injure or kill them? On May 1, 2011, my son and his coworkers were hurriedly erecting a drill site in Smyrna, N.Y. The site was extremely hazardous.
All-wheel drive vehicles were sinking into the mud, and ruts were thigh-deep, sometimes even waist-deep. Supervisors requested, and then demanded, more mats to cover the work area. The company answered that they were too expensive and pushed the workers to continue. As a result, Charles E. Bevins III, my sweet, sweet boy, was pinned between an industrial-sized forklift and a building and crushed when the weight of the forklift on the unstable ground gave way. The remote, hidden location, which affords so many drilling sites less scrutiny, was not mutually beneficial to my son. The sprint to the Syracuse hospital took over an hour. I’m told the last thing his coworkers heard him say as they loaded him into the ambulance was, “Am I gonna die?”
My only son, 23 years old, died repeatedly, until the doctor could no longer revive him. My only son died with no family or friends at his side to hold him and comfort him. Every night when I go to bed, my thoughts are haunted by what his last thoughts must have been, how scared he was, his pain. When my son’s body was brought back home, we buried him on our property after keeping him at home one last night. He went into our soil, where he had grown up. We buried him among the trees he had cut and planted, the fences he had strung and repaired, while the sheep he trimmed and fed overlooked from the meadow. Our family dogs lay quietly among us as we said goodbye and filled his grave with earth. He was supposed to grow old in the house he helped build, not be buried in the woods, a stone’s throw from the back door.
Life became observed, not lived. The corporations he worked for sent flowers and representatives to his viewing. I found a short paragraph on one of their websites about sending their condolences and how committed they are to worker safety — this sandwiched between paragraphs about earnings and upcoming events. As far as the news, a local channel did a very short piece acknowledging his death and an ongoing investigation.
After many months, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found the companies at fault and slapped them on the wrist with a whopping $4,900 fine. In the four years now following the loss of my son, our eyes have been opened to the substantial amount of injuries and deaths caused by this dangerous industry. We read more and more articles about rig workers injured or killed by electrocutions, explosions, and traffic accidents. Our research also unveiled the unregulated, inhumane hours they are forced to work and the unsafe environments they are subjected to. After speaking with his coworkers, it became apparent that all the regulations in the world would never make drilling safe. This is an industry known for cutting corners, racing against public opinion, and ignoring scientific evidence. Their blatant disregard of these things will continue to leave environments, communities, and especially workers, at risk.
Our family will never be the same. We settled with the companies he worked for because we live in a town with a large number of drilling and supporting businesses, some owned by other residents of our county. We knew we would never get a fair trial. Our grandchildren will be taken care of, but they will always long for that part of their lives that is missing –– their dad. When we are at community events, or even family gatherings, I can see the hurt on their faces as they watch other children interact with their fathers, and my heart breaks into a million pieces again.
I spent the first three years after our son’s death hating the gas industry, railing against them with the angry fury that only a broken-hearted mother can know. Not just because their incompetence took him but because people in our state are fighting for their water, their land, and their lives. I became a bitter, angry person, until I realized how it was affecting everyone around me and getting our cause nowhere. I took a few steps back, and I decided if I was going to survive, I would have to go forward in a positive way. We rid our home of any gas-powered appliances, replacing our stove and water heater. We now heat our home with wood in the winter time. I began looking into solar and other alternative ways to power our home. I am hoping to join with others in our area to organize a solar co-op, which enables people to buy systems in larger quantities, bringing the cost down.
I hope and pray that any workers in this dangerous industry think long and hard about their lives. Is it worth being away from your children for weeks at a time? How long do you think your marriage can survive the stress? Think about your children, your wife, your mom and dad, your siblings. The world is changing, energy is changing, and gas is on its way out. Jump this sinking ship, for yourself and those you love.
Cabria County, Penn., former industry worker
My name is Randy Moyer. I’ve become disabled as a result of trucking wastewater, and I want a ban on fracking. I’ve been driving trucks since 1994. In August 2011, I started driving for a small water-hauling outfit in East Freedom, Blair County, Penn. Every day was different. Some days I’d carry mud, but most days I’d haul wastewater from fracked wells to treatment plants. They’d lower the pH, and then I’d haul it back to the wells for another frack job. I didn’t know exactly what was in the brine. It was an endless parade of trucks on those back roads. Some nights there would be 350 trucks just for one pad.
On the pads, it was common for them to set up a makeshift containment pit out of sheets of plastic and a pipe frame, kind of like an above-ground pool. This was to hold the wastewater after it flowed back from the well. We’d use our trucks to drain them out, and once they were almost empty, part of the job was to get in there and squeegee out all the dirt and mud. Others would spray in hot water, and I’d squeegee. The more they sprayed and the longer I stayed in, the wetter my feet got. It would soak through my boots. Some guys would go in there in their bare feet to avoid getting their boots wet. We weren’t told what we were dealing with. We weren’t given material safety data sheets or any training on any of this stuff. They didn’t provide any specialized equipment or gear because they don’t want to scare the public. The only thing we were required to wear was a flame-resistant coat. If the public sees guys in HazMat suits, they’re going to start to ask questions. The drilling companies would rather endanger the public and the workers than answer too many questions. We just followed orders. If you asked too many questions, you were labeled a tree-hugger, and you were gone. They don’t want any tree-huggers.
Sometimes we’d go in the tanks. They’d use the super-sucker to clean them out. In there, you would wear a hard hat and goggles but no mask. In the tank, you’d spray hot water to clean out the frack fluid. You couldn’t see but an inch from your nose because of the steam. Eventually all the drivers are going to get sick like I have. It’s all airborne. I had to stop working in November 2011. I was too sick. I have a hard time breathing, and I use an inhaler. I get dizzy, and my vision is blurred. Sometimes I go into a room and forget why I’m there. I get migraines so bad I can’t think. If I get anywhere near a frack site or a compressor station, I throw up. This stuff gets into your eyes and ears. My tongue, lips, and limbs all swelled up. I’ve had three teeth snap off. The first two broke while I was eating garlic bread and spaghetti.
I have burning rashes all over my body that jump from place to place. My heart acts like a pumping station for this junk and moves it throughout my body. It moves up my arms to my chest and then down to my genitals and rear end. There were days this past winter when all I could do was lie on the floor in my house with the doors open to cool me down. My skin felt like it was on fire.
The first time I went to an emergency room was straight from a well pad. I showed a supervisor the rash on my chest, and he sent me. Since then, I’ve been to the emergency room 10 more times and have seen more 40 specialists in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. One told me I had bed bugs. Another said it must be a food allergy. It took me only four months on the gas rigs to get this stuff in me, and now, no one seems to know how to get it out.
On my best days, I have two good hours, and then I’m spent. I’ve got two tractor-trailers sitting at my brother’s place that I’ll never drive again. I can’t go back to driving a truck. I tried to get workman’s compensation from the company, but the judge denied it in 2015. I’ll appeal. I’ve heard stories of other guys who have it like I do and have taken their own lives. I’m a fighter. That’s how God made me. I go to church three times a week. If He brings you to it, He’ll bring you through it. I just pray he gives me enough time to see my 7-year-old grow up a bit.
Erin Sethman, Washington County, Penn.
My name is Erin. We live in Washington County, across the street and next door to an ever-growing gas processing facility. My husband and I are parents, attempting to protect our babies and family from the hazards inflicted upon us by the industry and our township. The property has been in our family for more than 60 years, which, for our family, is three generations. It used to be a quiet and peaceful rural neighborhood. Now our area is tainted with flare stacks, multiple compressor stations, rigs and oil-tanker traffic, a monstrous cryogenic processing plant, and countless well pads that risk our physical well-being, mental health, property, and environment. We are just a small sampling of people exposed to the impacts of gas development.
Considering the gas industry is a multibillion dollar one, our little township seemingly looks to improve its image and income instead of helping residents who are in harm’s way. Never did we believe the township’s selfish decisions would impact our daily living to such an extreme. Air scrubbers, ambient air testing, inhalers, speck air monitors — these devices need to be on hand and referenced prior to letting our children go outside to play. We have had multiple evacuations, three in the last year alone. There have been explosions, fires, and gas leaks.
The first evacuation occurred in May 2014. My husband and I were not together. He was home with one of our daughters, and I was out with the other, at dance class. We were informed by a friend who overheard on the police scanner that there was an emergency at the facility across the street from our house. In a panic, I called my husband. They had heard a “boom” but didn’t understand what was happening. My aunt, who was also there, tried to drive away but couldn’t because the road was blocked.
She came back to the house and told my husband. He saw the police and fire trucks blocking the road with lights blazing, so he walked down the road to talk to the officers, who then told him they did not know exactly what was happening. They were trying to find out whether they should evacuate. My husband could see gas spewing uncontrollably straight into the air. He knew it was time to leave, even if they weren’t sure. I called Chartiers Township supervisors to find out the location where the families would be evacuated and was told they would have to call me back because they didn’t know. There was a lot of confusion. We spent many stressful hours not knowing exactly what was happening. We ultimately found out they determined it was not an explosion, but the facility had been struck by lightning. An “act of God.” No one was at fault. “These things happen,” we were told. However, after this event, we felt no more secure in knowing what we should do if ever anything happened again, and it did.
The second evacuation was Christmas Eve 2014. There was an explosion at the gas-metering station that sits fewer than 150 feet from our in-laws’ house, which is right next door to our house. They were enjoying their holiday when they heard something hissing loudly outside. My father-in-law said it sounded as if something had been leaking prior to the explosion, and he believed the flare, which was more than 30 feet high that night, ignited it. There was a big explosion, so big it shook the house. My mother-in-law thought the neighborhood was blowing up. It was at least 15 minutes or more before there was a response, and after that, they were evacuated by local authorities. We were at my parents’ house for the holiday when we heard about the event, via a text from a friend. My in-laws called and were terrified. They didn’t want us to come back to the house, but we had to make sure they were OK. We were also worried about our home. My husband went back into the chaos, found them, and then spent a few hours that night sitting at the fire department waiting for the all-clear to go back home.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection was supposed to have a thorough investigation. According to our local paper, “State Department of Environmental Protection spokesman John Poister told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette it was caused by over-pressurization that allowed gas to leak or escape from the station.” He said the DEP and state Public Utility Commission “are investigating.” However, we were never able to get any information about what happened that night — not about whether or how the problem was fixed, and we tried all routes we could think of with the DEP. Our local officials knew nothing either. No one seemed to be able to even tell us exactly when and how the site was permitted. Who is in charge when there is a problem? The DEP? The Public Utility Commission? Federal Energy Regulatory Commission? Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Association? How will we know when the problems have been addressed? And yet, before we got any answers to any of those questions, the station was up and running again, about a month later.
On February 11, only about two weeks after the facility went back online, there was another emergency situation. This time there was an ethane release at the facility next to my in-laws. The same place that had the fire. Again, my family was not properly evacuated. I found out there was a problem while driving down my street and seeing the tell-tale lights and the road blocked. I immediately called my husband who was still inside the barricade. I told him what was happening. He knew there was a problem around him and was walking toward the barricade when I called. We were left to self-evacuate again, ahead of the situation in comparison to the responders. It was terrifying. My family has never once been evacuated properly.
Who are our advocates? DEP? Not quite. After multiple complaints you realize DEP stands for “don’t expect protection.” No return phone calls or updates for emergency situations are common. Fingers are pointed to another agency, so on and so on. EPA? PUC? PHMSA? No, not them either. Policies or procedures are not shared or understood. I have had no luck or feedback other than the words “We are not responsible.” We have reached out to everyone, and yet there are never any answers or any help.
This is truly a nightmare. It’s like we are living in a surreal dream because you believe this type of treatment does not occur in 2015 in the United States of America. Yet this is our reality, day in and out –– frightened, confused, uncertain, and angry.
While members of the board of supervisors are tucking their loved ones into bed, we are praying a flare-stack fire does not occur. If so, what is our best exit route? We still don’t know. All of the industry workers are equipped with personal protection equipment. Should our family invest in this type of gear for additional safety? Learning to sleep with one eye open is not just an expression in this household. We are always listening for sirens, waiting for the next incident. We were told we should just have an overnight bag at all times ready in the car for the situations that arise. This certainly is not how we envisioned raising our family
Simply put, we are hard-working Americans being stripped of our civil rights, dignity, and privacy. We are simply trying to keep our family safe. Unfortunately, until a truly catastrophic event occurs, it seems as though the township officials, DEP, and all other governmental agencies will just continue to turn a blind eye. At this point, we just want out, but we are trapped. Who would want to live here now?
resident of Vienna, Ohio
My name is Julie Barr. I have lived in my home for 14 years. When we moved to what was our dream home, it was country living at its best. We could not have asked for better neighbors: people who cared about one another, people you could count on, and, you would think, would look out for you and your family. Today, I have five injection wells almost in my backyard. There is no more sitting outside in the evening after a hard day at work. Now, all you hear is the beeping from truck after truck, at times reaching 20 within one hour, all coming to dump brine and waste from hydraulically fractured wells. No more quiet. No more peace. No more waking up in the morning just to watch my children sleep. Now, I have to run and test our water before they get up, so I feel it is safe for them to brush their teeth and take a bath.
About two years ago, my next door neighbors passed away, and their children and grandchildren took over the land. At first, not much changed. Then, my old neighbor’s grandson’s company opened an injection well in the field. Our quiet country life was no more.
One day my family was almost hit by one of the trucks pulling out of the dump site. We were shook up and always on alert after that. Then my biggest fear came true. Right before Easter, there was a leak or a spill, and it was really big. It spread over a mile of wetlands and ponds. We found out on our way home because of all the police and equipment at the end of the street. We were very concerned. At first we got no answers, just what we were able to see — many dead fish and other wildlife. I began to cry looking at all the death around me, and then it hit me: my kids and our water! I called the house and told our sitter not to let the kids bathe in or drink the water. No one could tell us what was leaking or from where it was coming. All I was told is that everything was OK and they didn’t think anything was wrong with my water. It was only after the spill that we found out there was not one but five injection wells operating in the field by our house. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources took a water test for us, but the cleanup was still ongoing for weeks afterward. There was never any monitoring or follow up to assure us our water would be safe by the state or regulatory agencies. They never told us what was spilled or how. Almost two months later, we still do not know what the substance was that killed all of the fish and contaminated the ponds and wetlands.
When catastrophes strike, where do you look but to the county and state government, the EPA and ODNR? Well let me tell you, that’s not the place to start. I didn’t get answers, just more questions and concerns. Our local trustees called a meeting to help the community get answers. Questions were asked, but not much was answered. They did try to help, but their hands were tied. We still have not had many answers about what happened, and, honestly, I don’t think we ever will.
You may say, “Just move.” Well, if you don’t have money and your home has now lost its value, how can you? Our neighbors can keep making millions on the backs of their neighbors without a care. In the meantime, I will continue to check my water daily and pray that maybe one day we can get away from all of this.