Consol Energy community forum leaves West Virginia residents with more questions than answers about fracking
Note: This is the first installment in a series about fracking, (hydraulic fracturing for natural gas), controversial because of its impact on public safety and health, as well as the environment.
By Michael M. Barrick
JACKSON’S MILL, W.Va. – Myra Bonhage-Hale came to a community meeting here last evening, hoping to have her questions about the impact of fracking on her small unincorporated community of Alum Bridge answered by Consol Energy. Though she came with a handful of hand-made signs with questions on them, Bonhage-Hale left the meeting upset because the event allowed for only limited one-on-one discussions with various Consol officials and employees.
While the various booths set up by Consol staff at the Assembly Hall of Jackon’s Mill State 4-H Camp were situated to allow the public to ask questions, the sheer volume of people present made that nearly impossible. Indeed, upwards of 500 people turned out to a venue designed to hold far less people. Bonhage-Hale is from Lewis County, where the gathering was held. However, residents from all over the region, including neighboring Doddridge and Gilmer counties also attended, many of them expressing disgust that Consol did not hold a town-hall type of event.
As Diane Pitcock from Doddridge County expressed, “We expected an open forum where we could ask questions. Many of us may have questions that other people haven’t thought of. But that isn’t going to happen tonight.” Pitcock, if she had been given a chance to ask questions, would have peppered Consol officials with questions, as she has been dealing with the issues surrounding fracking for years on her farm near West Union. Indeed, in response to the experiences she and her neighbors have had, she organized a group known as West Virginia Host Farms that provides access for researchers, physicians, engineers, public health officials, journalists and other interested parties to fracking sites. Her purpose? She says, “In this rush to drill, they have not taken time to see the long-term effects.” She continued, “I’m a conservative Republican. Nobody would think of me as a tree-hugger. I know some people are supporting this because of the jobs, but this issue isn’t about jobs, it’s about public health. The water is polluted. Air quality is bad. The roads are being destroyed.” Indeed, on her website, Pitcock has numerous photos of the impact of fracking, including an overturned truck.
Indeed, the narrow roads throughout all of West Virginia make driving on them inherently dangerous. Adding oversized trucks with tremendous weights makes for dangerous driving and road surface deterioration. Additionally, just last year, an accident involving a truck hauling the brine water used for fracking, led to the death of two children in Harrison County, just to the east of Doddridge County.
Another Lewis County resident, Barbara Volk, told West Virginia Public Radio reporter Roxy Todd, “As a surface owner, I feel we are bulldozed. We are treated like we don’t exist and nobody cares. I did actually speak with someone. And he assured me that everything is going to be according to EPA regulations, and that the environment will be protected and the water will be protected. But frankly, from what I have seen in Doddridge County and surrounding areas, I don’t believe that’s going to be the case.”
To the west of Lewis County is Gilmer County. Diana Gooding, a resident there, drove the hour or so to attend the meeting. She offered, “Come see for yourself. I can show you the devastation.”
Meanwhile, Bonhage-Hale is still waiting for her questions to be answered. Standing outside of the Assembly Hall, she quietly held up her signs. Nobody from Consol stopped to talk with her.
© Michael M. Barrick/Appalachian Chronicle, 2014. Barrick is an expert in community preparedness and disaster management. Learn more about him here.