Responsible Drilling Alliance

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Life in the Sacrifice Zone


By Barb Jarmoska, RDA Board of Directors

As I look back over the past decade of my life, ever since the fossil fuel industry set its sights on PA’s Marcellus Shale, several memories stand in sharp relief against the blurred background of 1,000 remembered conversations, hearings, presentations, testimonies, demonstrations, marches and encounters.  

The first took place at Laporte High School during a debate between two PhDs: Tony Ingraffea of Cornell University and Terry Engelder of PSU. It was here that I first heard the term “Sacrifice Zone,” the new name for the land that sits atop the shale, the land where I live.  

Ingraffea, with a doctorate in rock fracture mechanics (aka fracking), issued dire warnings of what was to come. He explained that, with billions of dollars at stake, the gas industry has no shortage of smooth- talking front men and lobbyists who are very good at perpetuating the myths required to keep the public in the dark, and state and federal law (and regulation) makers on the industry’s side of any debate.  

In sharp contrast, Engelder, whose doctorate is in geology, began his segment by quoting John F. Kennedy’s famous “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” According to Engelder, we were about to be given a wonderful opportunity – not only could we exercise our unfaltering patriotism to America by helping to end our nation’s dependence on foreign oil, we could get rich in the process. Gee. Lucky us. What’s not to love?  

Another of my vivid recollections took place at a meeting held at the Community Baptist Church on Route 87, hosted by Inflection Energy. After being asked to sign in and share our contact information, we were invited to choose from an assortment of Inflection-emblazoned items as a souvenir of the evening (pens, baseball caps, coffee mugs, Frisbees, etc), fed a pork bar-b-q and baked beans supper, and expected to sit through a Power Point presentation given by Mr. Tom Gillespie, Inflection’s Director of Regulatory, Health, Safety and Environment. (No, that title does not contain a typo, unless one exists on the Inflection web site.) Mr. Gillespie’s turtleneck and tweed sport coat with suede elbow patches were a perfect complement to his everybody’s-favorite-college-professor demeanor. Gillespie’s talk, a virtual Hallelujah Chorus for unconventional gas drilling and the opportunity for lease-signing that was to follow, ran way over time, leaving only a few minutes for questions from the audience. I can still see the woman who raised her hand and timidly asked about the chemicals used in the fracking process, something the esteemed Mr. Gillespie had failed to mention. The casual tone of his reply reminded me of a parent reassuring a child there are no monsters under the bed. The Director of Regulatory, Health, Safety and Environment promised the audience that there was nothing to worry about, that the chemicals used by the gas industry are nothing new and are considered ubiquitous in other areas of life. Fracking chemicals, he explained, can be put into one of three classifications: those found in women’s cosmetics, those used by backyard swimming pool owners and those used by dentists. Monsters under the bed? No way. No worries.  

Fast forward through the decade to the pre-dawn hours of November 14th, to Yeagle Road in Eldred Township, a couple miles south of my home. There on an Inflection Energy well pad, just uphill from the nearby rural neighborhoods known as the Baxter and Hocker Developments, 63,000 gallons of frack fluid spilled onto the ground before anyone noticed that the tank into which they were transferring the fracking chemical soup (aka flowback) had topped out.  

To residents of nearby homes, drinking from their private water wells was suddenly a serious concern. Answers to their questions about the “event” were hard to come by, as Ralph explained in the lead story. Believing that fracking chemicals are just secret combinations of common substances used in make-up, swimming pools and dentist offices suddenly became a whole lot harder to ….uhhh…swallow, knowing that the chemicals had been spilled into nearby ground water and a small tributary that flows through the neighborhood before entering the Loyalsock Creek.  

Based on its mission statement, Inflection Energy is the company that claims to be “committed to protecting our operating environment” and to “highly value our relationships with landowners and communities, who are our partners in the efficient and orderly development of their natural resources.”  

This frack fluid spill may be the worst violation, but this is certainly not the first time that Inflection’s “partnership” and “protection” deserves to be questioned. With its 52 active wells, Inflection has racked up 84 violations to date.  

When does the DEP cry, “Enough!” and stop issuing new permits to bad actors? For Inflection and every other operator in PA, that answer is, “Never.” No regulation exists to weed out the worst players in the shale game. Companies can simply pay the often “budget dust” fine and continue to conduct business as usual. Thus far, gas drilling companies in Pennsylvania have logged a total of 6,532 violations of existing regulations, 953 of which occurred here in Lycoming County.  

Is it any wonder that 15 countries, including Scotland, Switzerland, Ireland, France, Italy and Germany, now have a partial or complete ban on fracking due to “health concerns”?  

Is it any wonder that there is no drilling allowed in PA’s Delaware River basin, where the risk is too great to take a chance on the water supply for over 7 million people?  

Is it any wonder that PA’s neighbors to the north and south, the states of New York and Maryland, have issued complete moratoriums on drilling and fracking – choosing the health and safety of citizens over the inflated promises of job growth and quick infusion of cash into state and reelection campaign coffers?  

Is it any wonder that the company responsible for the recent 63,000-gallon frack fluid spill in a rural Lycoming County neighborhood is often referred to as Infection Energy?

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