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Sunday, April 8, 2012

GUEST ESSAY: Non-environmental effects of natural gas exploration

In the last several months, the level of discussion about high-impact slick water drilling for gas, frequently called hydrofracking, has increased to a fever pitch. People on both sides have strongly-held opinions. There is a great deal of pressure on towns to protect themselves against hydrofracking. There is a lot to know. Without taking a stand for or against the process, it seemed like having as much information as possible was an important responsibility for a town and its citizens. Therefore, several of us from West Bloomfield decided to drive to Pennsylvania to see for ourselves, firsthand, what all the shouting is about.
Lawrenceville, Pa. is a small rural town, not unlike West Bloomfield and similar in population. We also visited Elkland to the west, Mansfield to the south and Towanda to the east.
The first thing that strikes you is the amount of truck traffic. Each well requires thousands of gallons of water, delivered by a parade of heavy trucks that operates 24 hours per day. Trucks are everywhere. There are parking lots full of trucks, heavy equipment, piles of pipe, huge valves, and miscellaneous equipment. We saw lots of signs offering property to rent or lease for the parking of these vehicles.
Elkland and Lawrenceville residents told us individual members of each community were making lots of fast money. Any rental housing, mobile home lots, RV parking spaces or even side yards where an RV might be parked, are full. Local people have been priced out of the area. The 911 call center has had a huge increase in the number of calls.
Because of the increase in truck traffic, there has been an enormous increase in automobile/truck collisions. They have frequently been very serious, and the local fire departments have not had the equipment needed to deal with it. There has been a huge strain on the local emergency services. People who once would have been available to help have been hired by the oil companies, leaving the volunteer services without the personnel needed when an emergency arises. There have also been several hazardous materials spills which the local fire departments have not been prepared to deal with. Specialized gear and training have put an additional strain on already overstretched volunteers. One small-town fire department eventually bought a trailer to haul their hazardous materials response equipment and had to raise the money themselves.