“If they took care of the landowners and the local people you’d be so much further ahead, but they won’t. And that’s what pissed me off.”
-Cory Pepper, Bradford Township, Pennsylvania
Telling personal stories
Today we have a slightly different take, a much lighter one, in our weekly series on personal stories about how the oil and gas boom in North America has affected people’s lives. Leave it to The Daily Show to use humor to show how seriously we should be concerned about the dangers of fracking.
Previous posts in the series:
Tim and Christine Ruggiero, Wise County, Texas
Laura Amos, Encana, Colorado
Helen Ricker, Poplar, Montana
Diana Daunheimer, Didsbury, Alberta
John Fenton, Pavillion, Wyoming
Linda Monson, Williston, North Dakota
Bob Deering, Pennsylvania
The Daily Show: “The Benefits of Fracking”
Today’s story starts with a clip from The Daily Show, which does its usual great job of using humor to expose hypocrisy, in this case the smug assuredness of the oil and gas industry, contrasting it against the hopelessness of their victims. The segment is ironically entitled “The Benefits of Fracking.”
In the segment “reporter” Aasif Mandvi interviews six Pennsylvania residents whose lives have been affected by fracking. He mocks and belittles their complaints, suggesting that perhaps the nosebleeds their cows have experienced might be because they are snorting cocaine.
Mandvi then talks to Marita Noon, Executive Director of an industry organization called Energy Makes America Great, who tells him how responsible the oil and gas industry is, how much they care about communities, and how safe fracking is.
He then moves into a litany of environmental disasters caused by fracking, with suitable video of explosions, leaks, and other ugly incidents. He even trots out one of our favorite examples of industry hypocrisy, the famed Pennsylvania pizza giveaway.
Definitely worth a watch. Sorry I can’t embed the video, but you can get to it by clicking on the picture below. Give the video a minute to load.
Christine Pepper, Bradford County Pennsylvania
But what’s not funny at all are the stories of the earnest people who appeared in the video, who are so committed to justice that were willing to subject themselves to ridicule to get their stories out.
Take Christine Pepper, the woman in the upper left in the photo above. She’s locked in a battle with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to resolve what appears to be irreparable damage done to her water supply. Her family has no water to drink, to shower, or wash their clothes so they’re making calls to inlaws and saving single gallon plastic jugs to store water in.
It started the day Christine splashed water on her face from the kitchen faucet and a burning sensation shot through her skin. “It felt like my face was on fire for 20 minutes,” she said. Later she developed red bumps on her face.
The next thing that happened was that there was no water at all. The Pepper’s spring-fed well, which had produced water for more than 50 years, went completely dry.
“I’m not saying we’ve never had low water,” explains Christine’s husband Cory, “but it always comes right back, but it’s stayed dry for two weeks. And… I’ve never seen anything like it! I’m 42, I’ve lived here 42 years, and my Dad was 18 when he bought this house.”
Previous water problems in the area
The Peppers live on Southside Road in Leroy Twp. Bradford County, where drinking water problems have been described in the documentary Triple Divide. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has pending Gas Migration Investigation (GMI) cases throughout the area, with Leroy Twp. being famous for two GMI’s in the last three years: the Atgas 2H well blowout in April 2011, and the Morse 5H well subsurface problems in 2012. Both wells are within three miles of each other.
According to DEP, the Morse 5H well is currently in inactive status due to regulatory procedures. But there is a second well on the same pad, the 3H, which the Peppers were told went into production the same week their well went dry.
“They opened up the 3H well and the next day we have problems,” explains Cory, who happens to work locally for the gas industry but has been skeptical that fracking had anything to do with stories of water contamination in the area.
When Cory saw his family’s spring dry up, and found out that the 3H well had been put online, he and Christine called DEP to submit a complaint.
Once a homeowner submits a drinking water complaint the Department has 45 days to make a determination about whether oil and gas activities have impacted the water supply.
The DEP investigation has dragged out and has caused nothing but problems for the Peppers. It took several days for the DEP to get out and investigate the complaint. The investigator cam out on February 11, which was the day the DEP started the clock ticking on their 45-day investigation. .
As Christine recalls, “DEP came that day and told me that bare minimum it would be 45 days to several years before they come up with a conclusive decision. And the one gentleman told me that it was highly unlikely it had anything to do with the drilling over there.”
The Pepper family is no stranger to DEP or impacts from fracking. Christine’s mother (the woman with gray hair in The Daily Show video) is Carolyn Knapp, and Carolyn has spent years educating Bradford County about the impacts from drilling while criticizing DEP for how they handle water complaints. So since this isn’t Carolyn’s first water rodeo, Christine had her mother act as the liaison for her complaint.
The case should have had a quick resolution. The Morse 5H well located on the same pad is also responsible for blowing out and impacting a creek down the road on the farm of Tim Pepper, Cory’s brother. With this and other incidents happening nearby within the past two years, the DEP could have acted quickly. Instead they’ve left the Pepper family without water.
“If they took care of the landowners and the local people you’d be so much further ahead, but they won’t. And that’s what pissed me off.” Cory says angrily.
Now, nearly two months later, the DEP has violated its standards for complaint resolution, and the Peppers are just another family whose lives have been disrupted by the oil and gas industry.
The Public Herald, an independent non profit dedicated to investigative journalism, has gathered information about 285 cases of citizen water complaints related to fracking in Bradford County, PA alone and has made them public at PublicFiles.org.
Implications for Montana
What has happened to Christine Pepper and her family is what we’ve seen in other personal stories all over North America: the disregard of the oil and gas industry for personal property rights, and the complete inability of state and federal government bureaucracies to do anything about it.
This doesn’t have to happen in Stillwater and Carbon Counties. Citizens can demand that drilling companies meet standards that will protect their water before they drill. But this will only happen if you are willing to act. If you sit passively and hope it won’t happen to you it probably will.