Visiting Dimock, Seeing Gas Drilling’s Ugly Side Firsthand

Like so many who have been following controversial gas drilling issues in the Northeast’s Marcellus Shale region (the geological formation that stretches from West Virginia to upstate New York), I have been hearing and reading about, and seeing images of, Dimock, PA for the past roughly year-and-a-half.  For those not in the know, Dimock has become the unfortunate poster child for all that can go wrong when industrial gas drilling in the Marcellus isn’t adequately regulated and companies make mistakes.  Residents have experienced the wide array of adverse effects associated with shale gas production – many of them, it should be noted, inherent in the activity even under the best of circumstances.

These impacts include: exploding water wells, contaminated water supplies necessitating daily fresh water deliveries (complete with home invasion in order to accept the regular deliveries), rural landscapes utterly transformed into industrial zones, constant diesel fumes, 24-hour-a-day traffic and noise that literally shakes the walls of homes.

I finally had the opportunity to visit Dimock in person earlier this week.  This is the first of a series of posts that I’ll file giving some of my impressions.  I’m doing this not because I have something new or unique to offer, but because the experience so affected me.  And the people who invited me into their homes deserve to have their stories told. I have been working on the Marcellus Shale gas drilling issue for about two-and-a-half years, but as much as I have read, listened to stories, seen photos and video footage and talked about the potential adverse impacts, nothing can compare to seeing, hearing and smelling them live.

The first thing that should be said is that Dimock is (or was) some of the prettiest Pennsylvania farm country I’ve seen.  (We’ve posted a few of the photos from our visit here.  Other excellent photos of Dimock have been taken by artist, J. Henry Fair, and by local activist, Frank Finan.)  While many of Dimock’s residents have been there for generations, many more moved to Dimock to retire in its rolling hills or to raise their kids in a peaceful place.

But now – and for some just years after purchasing their new homes – the landscape is dotted with industrial operations, the roads swarm with trucks and the drinking water is a disturbing shade of brown.

 Image removed.

Image removed.

As devastating as the experience is for those who have lost (for the rest of their own lives and those of generations to come) their fundamental right to have clean, safe, potable drinking water come out of their taps (and I’ll be focusing more on this in my next post), what was most perhaps most eye-opening was the utter transformation of the community.

Only when you’re standing in the front yard of someone’s dream home – which was once surrounded only by their residential neighbors and farms – and see, hear, smell and feel the vibrations of the incessant truck traffic that passes at all hours of the day and night can you truly understand how transformative it is when gas production arrives in a community.  Only when you hear the constant industrial noise from every direction as new well pads are cleared, well bores drilled and then fracked – noise that likewise exists around the clock – can you comprehend how those whose lives have already been turned upside down by drilling gone wrong can never escape the constant auditory reminders.  And only when you stand in the backyard of a family who moved to the beautiful Dimock countryside after their last home burned to the ground and see the well pads to both their immediate left and right does it become clear that – even if everything had gone “right” – this family now lives in an industrial zone.

My next post will focus on some of the myriad things that have, in fact, gone wrong in Dimock – things that have made it the unwilling cautionary tale for why Marcellus drilling should not be permitted in New York (or anywhere) unless and until we are shown if and how it can be done safely.