This personal story is one of a series on this blog chronicling the impact of the oil and gas boom on the lives of people all over North America. You can see other personal stories in our series by clicking here.
Some of the most compelling stories come unfiltered from the people affected. Today’s post comes from a speech given by Jaime Frederick on January 10, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio. You can read the story, which is a transcription of the speech, or watch the video at the end of the post.
Jaime’s tale of the complete violation of her privacy, her rights, and her health by a system designed to protect the rights of the oil and gas industry at the expense of individuals is terrifying, and worth paying attention to as we look at the possibility of expanded oil drilling along the Beartooth Front.
A personal story: Jaime Frederick, Coitsville, Ohio
My name is Jaime Frederick and I’m from Coitsville, Ohio. Shortly after moving into my home in Coitsville outside of Youngstown, three years ago, I began to get seriously ill. I started vomiting on a regular basis and had intense abdominal pains everyday. After numerous trips to six different doctors, and several emergency room visits, test revealed that my gall bladder had completely failed. No gallstones, it had just stopped working, and no one could tell me why. I had my gall bladder taken out but continue to have what seems to be a never ending intestinal flu. It became so bad, that I soon developed an infection in my intestine, as large as a grapefruit, that ate through to the outside of my skin.
When I was finally admitted to the hospital, doctors said that I would have been dead in a few days if I had not come in when I did. They were baffled, and could only tell me this should not be happening to a healthy 30-year-old woman, and that this condition is typically only found in third world countries. Over the course of the next two years, I underwent a series of five more surgeries in an attempt to repair the damage that had been caused by the infection. I continued to get violently ill, and had elevated kidney and liver numbers, kidney infections, pain throughout my body, trouble breathing, rapid heartbeat, and many other unexplained symptoms.
I continue to search for answers, seeing 18 different doctors in total, who continue to misdiagnose and scratch their heads. Some told me that I was just stressed out, and that when you are stressed out you dehydrate and that I should drink as much water as possible. I know now that this advice nearly killed me. As we burned through our savings with thousands of dollars of medical bills, the answers never came as to why this was happening to me.
It wasn’t until a few months ago when the convoys of trucks and drilling equipment began rolling down our once lonely, quiet road, did the answers to my medical mystery unfold. The neighboring property owner, who lives out of town, had signed a gas lease before we even moved there, and never bothered to tell us. Out of the 62 acres signed off by my neighbor, that the best place to drill would be right by my home, about as close as the law would allow them.
As we scrambled to learn all that we could about what was happening to us, what rights we had, or didn’t, and how to stop it, we discovered that a special type of water test, a Tier 3 test, would have to be done to establish a baseline before the drilling began, and that we would have to pay for it ourselves. The cheapest test offered was $500. We managed to get the test done only two days before they started drilling. Our baseline tests revealed high levels of contaminants that are a result of the hydraulic fracturing and drilling process, such as high levels of barium, strontium, toluene and several others that I will not try to pronounce. The mystery was now solved. This was why I had been so sick for so long, and my dogs as well. At the time when I was most sick, I was drinking over two gallons of this water unfiltered each day.
As we dug deeper, we discovered that several wells had already been drilled and were tucked quietly away in the woods that surrounded our home and other properties. This was never disclosed to us when we bought the house. My husband never got sick because he hardly ever drank the water at home. I always bugged him to drink more water, and I’m glad now that like most husbands, he never listened to me. It’s hard to say which one of the 10 wells within a half-mile, 15 within a mile, actually caused the contamination. It only takes one bad well to poison a water table that can sometimes stretch out for over a mile. In some places that’s a lot of homes. As bad as this all sounds, the worst has yet to come.
Living through the drilling and fracking phase of the most recent well was a truly terrifying experience. We were given no notice whatsoever as to what was about to happen to us, and had nowhere to evacuate to with our three dogs and cats. We felt like we were trapped in someone’s idea of a sick joke. 24-7 nonstop, we were subjected to such unbelievable levels of noise that you can only understand if you’ve heard it for yourself. It would have been more peaceful to live on an airport runway. We couldn’t sleep for days at a time, and when we did it was only short naps in between explosions. We tried using earplugs, covered by these headphones, while listening to the radio, and could still plainly hear it. Worse yet, we could feel it, as a constant vibration through the house. That was just the drilling.
The actual fracking lasted about three days. Now that I get to live through Youngstown’s injection well earthquakes, I can tell you that is what it is similar to. Dishes rattling in the cupboards, pictures falling off the wall, cracking sounds in the basement. Like so many of you, I’m sure, I love my dogs with all my heart. I’ve never seen them so terrified, and hope I never will again. They cowered together in a corner, shaking uncontrollably for days. They would not go outside and they would not eat. I was unable to do anything to help them other than put a radio near them in hopes of masking the noise and calming them down.
The gas storage tanks, and radioactive toxic waste tanks… I refuse to call it brine, I’m sorry, because that was just a lie, that is not what it is. These tanks have been placed closer to my home than the well itself. They are right outside my bedroom window and just uphill from a fresh artesian spring on my property. The overflow hose that comes out of the radioactive toxic waste tank goes directly onto the ground and this is permitted because they get to lie and call it brine. I would not soak my pickles or my turkey in this. They are also permitted to bury to toxic wastewater pit on my neighbor’s property, just uphill from our home.
The gas storage tank is now hooked up and under high pressure. It regularly releases the pressure, putting the toxic fumes into the air and makes a lot of noise. It will do this for at least six more months. A smell similar to rotten eggs and diesel fumes hangs heavy in the air. ODNR tells me it is perfectly safe, and that I am in more danger breathing in the air in a parking lot. First of all, I don’t live in a parking lot. And secondly, when I do park my car in a parking lot it is not covered in an oily mist like now falls over our property and is seen easily on our house and car windows. I’m sure this is perfectly safe too, right ODNR?
Everyone asks me why I am not more upset with my neighbor and why I don’t sue him. I tell them because not only do we have no rights, but that I feel that he was taken advantage of by BoCor gas. They forced him to sign a lease when he was intoxicated, with no notary present. And they told him it would be no bigger operation than drilling a water well, and that the only thing left behind would be the size of a garbage can and surrounded by trees that they would plant. All lies, and there are still no trees. They also buried the radioactive toxic waste pit in the exact location where he told them he planning to build a home to retire in. BoCor also managed to rip him off to the tune of $300,000 in acreage payments. He said that if he knew then what he knows now, that he never would have signed and that he is very sorry. They have already destroyed the land that has been in his family for generations, dating back to the early 1800’s, and they are just getting started.
Our little house, in the middle of the woods, will soon be in the middle of a toxic wasteland, as they prepare to cut down the remaining trees to put in the pipelines and compressor stations that will eventually connect the wells. Our property value has been reduced from $125,000 to nothing, overnight. 47 wells, including injection wells, already cover the 12 square miles that is Coitsville, even surrounding the wildlife preserve.
We have already had a blowout of at least one well, a chemical spill, and a tear in a waste pit liner. And again, they are only getting started. I haven’t retested the water since the last well was drilled, but I have a feeling it didn’t make it cleaner. Even if I wanted to have it retested, we have nothing left, having spent every penny on water testing, water filtration equipment, medical bills, and renovating a home we thought we were going to raise a family in. We now check our faucets daily with a lighter, and we’re still hopeful because it hasn’t ignited, yet. I am feeling much better these days, and so are my dogs since we stopped drinking the water. My liver and kidney numbers have improved, though much damage has been done. I have developed kinetic tremors in my hands as a result of the neurological side effects of some of the chemicals.
But the worst side effect caused by the damage is my inability to safely carry a child, without the risk of hemorrhage or even death. Even if I could somehow still give birth, knowing the high risk of birth defects caused by the chemicals I drank. I will never take that risk. At the time when I was most sick, drinking the most water, I lay on the bathroom floor, night after night, thinking I would surely be dead soon. Throwing up until the blood vessels in my eyes and cheeks were burst. At that time, I did not know what fracking was, or that I was being deliberately poisoned. But I do now.
And I have a message for you Governor Kasic, and you Mr. Gasman, you may have taken my safety and my property value, you may have taken my gall bladder, and you may have taken my ability to have children, but you will not take my voice. And I will not stop until you stop. We will not stop until you stop.