A personal story: Marilyn Hunt, Wetzel County, West Virginia

 We used to live the American dream; we had a middle class existence. Now we’re on a camping trip without the fun. We collect rain water to water the stock and we’ve set up a special system to treat the rainwater for our drinking water.

-Marilyn Hunt, Wetzel County, West Virginia

Telling personal stories
The oil and gas boom has been underway for a number of years in many locations across North America, and there are now a lot of stories about individuals and families whose lives have been personally affected. This post is part of a regular weekly series of those stories on this blog to help you envision what could happen if drilling expands along the Beartooth Front.

Previous posts in this 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

Marilyn Hunt, Wetzel County, West Virginia
Thirty years ago we moved to Wetzel County. It was a quiet farming community crisscrossed with tiny country roads, abundant wildlife, strong families and churches, and blessed with clear night skies. Our water was clear and pure. It seemed like the perfect place to farm.

That all started to change in 2009. Convoys of trucks started coming in. Land men started making the rounds and trouble started.

Land men were very aggressive, gathering intelligence like CIA operatives, so they could pit one family member or one neighbor against another. Some unscrupulous land men even took advantage of older folks – sneaking into their homes while their caregivers were out and getting signatures on documents that sold their rights away. Marriages broke up, families fell apart, and longtime friendships were lost over disagreements about money and drilling.

Our local services and our way of life were overloaded and seriously altered. Serious crime exploded and our emergency responders weren’t equipped to handle the industrial accidents.

We didn’t have enough jail space to handle the criminals, many of them drillers from outside the area. Our quiet country roads were pocked with potholes.

Marilyn Hunt holds up a picture of a flaming gas well at a public meeting (click to enlarge)
Marilyn Hunt holds up a picture of a flaming gas well at a public meeting (click to enlarge)

A meeting was called and residents of the area were invited to hear the drillers talk about their operations. They assured us that the process they used was perfectly safe, that they were injecting just water and sand into the ground. They said that the only way anything could go wrong is if there were an accident or an anomaly.

Days later I was alarmed when I saw trucks pulling up with pallets and tanks of chemicals. If it was just sand and water, what were these chemicals?

The lawlessness went far beyond assaults and thievery, as we were soon to find out. We decided that we would not lease even though the drillers had designs on our farm. This, apparently, got some people upset. There were infringements upon our rights. There were attempts at intimidation. We were run off the road, there were attempts to change our property lines, and we caught a tanker truck emptying its contents on a local road without a permit.

Marilyn Hunt a personal story
Chickens grew deformed beaks after drinking water near a fracked well. The Hunts have been raising chickens for 21 years. (click to enlarge)

Then we started getting sick. In December 2009, we all came down with flu-like symptoms. Drinking water seems perfectly natural when you are sick – and our water was good. There were no smells or tastes but we did notice white flecks that we had never noticed before. It never occurred to us, though, that water might have been contaminated so far from the actual drilling. We assumed we were safe, insulated from harm by our 70-acre farm. We were over a mile from the nearest well. But then a neighbor called and told us her horses refused to drink the water from her well and it had a chemical smell. She, too, was over a mile from a drilling site. Our chickens developed neurological symptoms. They were unable to stand. The dying chicks moved their bodies in circles and died.

My husband Robert, a scientist with several patents to his name, tested the water and found acrylonitrile. Acrylonitrile is highly flammable and toxic and had migrated over a mile from the drill site. We have the findings of the volunteer lab and a private commercial lab. My neighbor has the deepest well in the area and her test results included benzene, toluene, and pages of other chemicals.

We used to live the American dream; we had a middle class existence. Now we’re on a camping trip without the fun. We collect rain water to water the stock and we’ve set up a special system to treat the rainwater for our drinking water.

I’m not sure if people realize how critical water is to our lives. We need it to drink, bathe, clean, cook, wash clothes, and it is also critical to our animals.

This country was set up to give all of its citizens certain rights. What seems to be happening is that we are sliding back to a tiered system where different people get different rights. We are in the midst of a prolonged and intense civil and human rights crisis.

The gas and oil industry buy the allegiance of our government officials with legalized bribes called campaign contributions. And who pays the steepest price? It’s the poor and marginalized.

Some people have benefited from this invasion but most people are no better off than when this “boom” hit Wetzel County. Some people have more money but the quality of their lives is no better and is often worse. You can’t live without clean air and water, and is life really living if you are nothing more than a serf? My father landed at Normandy and fought his way across Europe to protect our freedoms.

People need to stand up and fight for the government we were promised or we will lose all that so many gave so much for. We in America have become a beacon of hope and resolution to those who live under totalitarian and repressive regimes.

Closing note for Montanans
As I research these stories a very familiar theme comes through time after time. The evidence that links fracking to poisoning of the Hunts’ water supply is clear, but it is circumstantial. The drilling company denied that the contamination was fracking-related, or that they had used acrylonitrile in the frac fluid. The testing that Robert Hunt and the Hunts’ neighbors did showed contamination, but they were not able to establish that the contamination was related to the drilling in court.

The reason is that they had no baseline testing. Without pre-drilling baseline testing, it is impossible to prove the previous content of water.

Now is the time to get your water tested, before drilling takes place.

About davidjkatz

The Moses family has lived on the Stillwater River since 1974, when George and Lucile Moses retired and moved to the Beehive from the Twin Cities. They’re gone now, but their four daughters (pictured at left, on the Beehive) and their families continue to spend time there, and have grown to love the area. This blog started as an email chain to keep the family informed about the threat of increased fracking activity in the area, but the desire to inform and get involved led to the creation of this blog.
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2 Responses to A personal story: Marilyn Hunt, Wetzel County, West Virginia

  1. Pingback: A safer approach to drilling? Not for us. | Preserve the Beartooth Front

  2. Pingback: What’s wrong with the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation | Preserve the Beartooth Front

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