Tag Archives: Myra Bonhage-Hale

Filmmaker Finds Compelling Story in Her Own ‘Backyard’

Impact of fracking the focus of Keely Kernan’s latest work

By Michael M. Barrick

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. – Award-winning filmmaker Keely Kernan has already demonstrated that she is willing to travel anywhere to produce work that enlightens people about social and environmental topics. Kernan, 30, a native of the Appalachian Mountains of south-central Pennsylvania, has traveled to West Africa, Haiti and Central America for film projects. Now, however, Kernan, working from this historic hamlet in West Virginia’s eastern panhandle, is staying much closer to home, but still on a topic of significant social and environmental importance.

Keely Kernan at work

Keely Kernan at work

Kernan is covering the impacts of fracking upon people and the communities in which they live in a feature film titled “In the Hills and Hollows.” She began production in May of 2014 and has spent hundreds of hours researching and connecting with communities throughout West Virginia, and shooting the film. Currently, 60 percent of the film has been shot. She is in the process of conducting a Kickstarter campaign to secure funding needed to continue shooting and to contract post-production team members. That campaign ends on June 20, which is also the 152nd anniversary of West Virginia’s admittance into the Union as a state. (Additional information about the Kickstarter campaign can be found below).

Recently, Kernan found herself in opposite corners of the state. She visited Wetzel County to get an up-close look at one of the most heavily fracked counties in the Mountain State. Located in the northwestern portion of the state, it borders Ohio and Pennsylvania. She also went to Monroe County, located in the southeastern corner of the state; there she covered the impact of the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 300-mile 42” pipeline that would originate in Wetzel County and cross into Virginia from Monroe County. There, residents are fighting energy companies attempting to get approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to build the pipeline because approval will mean the companies can use eminent domain to cross private property to build the pipeline.Film Photo

Wherever she goes, Kernan seeks out those people whose stories are representative of the impacts of the state’s reliance upon a fossil fuel mono-economy. She explains, “I decided to make this documentary after spending a significant amount of time meeting with residents throughout West Virginia affected by the natural gas boom. What makes this story unique is that in many ways this is a repeat of history. We have seen the legacy of the boom and bust coal industry, the poisoning of our waterways, and wealth and resources leaving the state.”

Allen Johnson with Christians for the Mountains commented upon Kernan’s work. “I have seen two of Keely’s presentations as well as watched her filming on site. Keely’s work is driven by her keen heart of compassion and zeal for justice, coupled with high quality professional skill. Her filming will move hearts and minds to correct abuses to people and land and toward a much-needed shift of policy and practice to build a bright future for West Virginia.”

Kernan has traveled to cover the experiences of Annie and John Seay, who left their home last summer to get away from the fracking industry which surrounded their home. She spent countless days and hours with Myra Bonhage-Hale, a Lewis County lavender farmer who is also moving away from the farm she has owned for 35 years because of the impact the fracking industry is having close to her 110-acre farm. Bonhage-Hale is returning to her native Maryland. Kernan has captured the stories of residents in Doddridge County, Tyler County, Harrison County and many others. Kernan explained why she has traveled so extensively and intensively, spending hours with many of her subjects. “Ultimately, I decided to make this film to help share the stories of residents who live here, at ground zero of today’s energy, and to help promote a very important conversation about what type of future we want to have as citizens.”

Other journalists covering the topic, as well as environmental activists across the state, will cross paths with Kernan repeatedly. She has been at an industry-sponsored meeting and Jackson’s Mill last summer, a Town Hall community meeting in the tiny village of Ireland sponsored by two environmental nonprofits on a snowy and frigid Saturday in February, and a conference in Charleston where she spoke on the role of filmmaking in telling the story of preservationist efforts in Appalachia. She has sat with dozens of individuals, spent times at their homes, and seen citizens in numerous community meetings mobilize to challenge the energy industry.

Kernan shared, “While on this journey I have met many incredible people and it has been a privilege getting to know all of them. Residents have invested just as much in the film as I have invested in helping to tell their stories. They have spent hours showing me their communities, and have often times offered me a place to stay while organizing a visit in very rural parts of West Virginia. Their time and support has made this film possible.”

To learn more about the Kickstarter campaign please visit:

To read related articles about “In the Hills and Hollows,” as well as view some brief clips from the film, visit:
Kickstarter Campaign Launched for West Virginia-Based Feature Film
Breaking Ground, Breaking Hearts
Health and Well-Being of Residents Being Subordinated to Fracking Industry

© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. The Appalachian Preservation Project is a social enterprise committed to preserving and protecting Appalachia. If you wish to support our work, please consider becoming a member.

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Breaking Ground, Breaking Hearts

Story of Myra Bonhage-Hale reveals that fracking is destructive beyond what we can see

By Michael M. Barrick

ALUM BRIDGE, W.Va. – Myra Bonhage-Hale was getting hugs from people short, tall, young and old on her farm in Lewis County at her final Lavender Fair on May 9. Situated at the end of a three-mile gravel road connecting with U.S. Rt. 33 about halfway between Weston and Glenville, the remote location could not keep her admirers away. The hugs were part of the collective, extended community “goodbye” to Bonhage-Hale as she leaves the farm she has owned for 35 years to move back to her native Maryland.

At 80, Hale has made countless friends in the Mountain State. Indeed, as she was receiving yet another hug in her kitchen, she said simply, with tears in the corner of her eyes, “I’ve got so many friends.” Yet, she is moving out of the West Virginia hollow she loves so much because of the adverse impacts of the fracking industry.

The dozens of visitors gathering in this secluded hollow expressed their sadness at her departure, but assured her they understood. Nevertheless, conversations among small groups gathered under shade trees inevitably turned to the sadness people held in their hearts – not only for Myra, but also her family, her friends and, indeed, the entire state of West Virginia.

Bonhage-Hale did not make her decision in haste. At a meeting of the Lewis County Commission last Oct. 6, she implored commissioners to act upon their duty to protect the citizens and environment of the county. She said, “When I came to West Virginia as a single parent to the abandoned farm now known as La Paix, I thought of it as ‘Almost Heaven.’” Later, as she concluded her remarks, she said, “As I leave West Virginia, with my 34 years of hard work and love and joy and friendship at La Paix behind me, I think of West Virginia as ‘Almost Hell.’ La Paix is for sale. La Paix means peace. I plan to take it with me. The powers that be will not let me keep it here.” Indeed, sensing that her remarks were falling on deaf ears, she turned from the podium and with a quivering voice said to her son, “I need to get out of here.” While she was talking about the commission meeting room, her words were spoken with such determination that one sensed they had a double meaning. She was alluding, as well, it seemed, to West Virginia.

As word spread over the past several months that Bonhage-Hale was indeed moving, several of her friends asked that she have one more Lavender Fair before leaving. She agreed. She and her guests were greeted with a lovely West Virginia spring day. As each entered the farm, they were welcomed by a sign that reminded them why this hollow is so special – sacred even. The sign includes the name given the farm by Bonhage-Hale, “La Paix,” which is French for “peace.” The long banner includes the same greeting in several languages.

Based on the outpouring of love shown her this day, Bonhage-Hale has succeeded in living out the words that greet each of her visitors. While the steep slopes surrounding her farm house seemingly welcome and embrace the visitor, it is the joyful nature of Bonhage-Hale that creates the atmosphere. It is common for her to use the peace sign as a greeting and close out conversations and emails with the simple word, “Joy!”

It is that nature that seemed to overwhelm one visitor as she watched a screening of an extended trailer of Keely’s film. It includes a segment of Bonhage-Hale on her farm, alluding to the lack of respect by the extraction industry for people and the earth. After watching it, the person had to excuse herself. After composing herself, she explained, “This is so wrong. This is such a beautiful place. Myra is so sweet. She has always opened her home to us. This festival has brought many people together. The energy industry does not care about people. It does not care about land. It just cares about profit, no matter who it hurts. It breaks my heart.”

Later, when Bonhage-Hale was sitting in her kitchen, now quiet after most of the guests had left, she shared some departing thoughts about La Paix. Though the Lavender Fair was held only about 10 years of the 35 that she lived on the farm, Bonhage-Hale noted that it had been reflective of the purpose of La Paix. “The Lavender Fair is a culmination of research, friends, groups, apprentices and gardens into one great spiritual, energetic whole. This place has such magnificent energy because of the energy we’ve put into it. Also, what the earth puts into it. It works both ways.”

Pausing to think back over the 35 years, Bonhage-Hale offered, “Everyone that was here was happy. A lot of things go into the wholeness of La Paix. We’ve had wonderful apprentices, wonderful help and wonderful volunteers. People who come here appreciate the beauty of the land, the beauty of West Virginia.”

However, she concluded, “I don’t think West Virginia is being honored now by the powers that be. I’m not leaving West Virginia. It left me.”

To learn more about the Kickstarter campaign (including paintings donated by Myra Bonhage-Hale as rewards, please visit):

To view the trailer of Myra Bonhage-Hale from “In the Hills and Hollows,” please visit:
Meet Myra Bonhage-Hale

About Keely Kernan
Keely Kernan is an award winning filmmaker and photographer. Her work is dedicated to producing media that enlightens people about relevant social and environmental topics. As a storyteller she is driven by a desire to connect the viewer and inspire conversations that will influence and initiate reform.

© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project.

Voices Out of the Wilderness

Soloists becoming a chorus in opposition to fracking

By Michael M. Barrick

Note: This is the sixth 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.

WESTON, W.Va. – One at a time, individual citizens are standing before elected officials and fellow citizens to raise their voices in opposition to fracking and related industries. Those single voices are becoming a chorus however, as landowners and others are speaking out more regularly. Here in Lewis County, the county commissioners – who hold meetings weekly – have had citizens appear before them regularly. In nearby Randolph County, a landowner drew a crowd of about 40 to hear him tell his story of haggling with Dominion over his property rights. In neighboring Doddridge County, residents have been demanding protection from the damaging effects of fracking for years. And multiple boards and commissions throughout North Central West Virginia have heard from one man determined to ensure that there are safeguards in place for the loosely-regulated fracking industry.

Tom Bond of Jane Lew is interviewed by WBOY and WDTV regarding his views on fracking

Tom Bond of Jane Lew is interviewed by WBOY and WDTV regarding his views on fracking

While there are groups who have been working for years to alert citizens to the public health and safety dangers of fracking, the last few weeks have offered a flurry of activities designed to bring attention to its risks, as fracking operations ramp up throughout North Central West Virginia and beyond. Below are just a few examples of people appealing to their elected officials or neighbors. Some, like the first person, have accepted fracking as inevitable and are looking for ways to monitor and mitigate its impact; others are inclined to oppose fracking altogether.

• On October 2, Steve Garvin’s idea that trucks hauling water for fracking operations contain a dye that could quickly identify the location, direction and flow of a spill in the event of an accident was endorsed by the Clarksburg Water Board, though it did indicate such action would require passage of state law. Garvin has traversed the region, pitching his request to local boards and commissions. Some, like Clarksburg’s water board, support him. Others have yet to commit.
• On October 11, about a dozen or so folks gathered at the farm of Myra Bonhage-Hale for a gathering of various experts who shared their experience with and knowledge of fracking. Bonhage-Hale, who has been in the news for her active opposition to fracking, had just a few days before appeared before the Lewis County Commission, asking them to consider the impact of fracking upon her historic farm.
• On October 14, Weston resident Tom Berlin questioned the same body about the county’s disaster preparedness for the risks posed by fracking.
• On October 16, in the Randolph county town of Mill Creek, Joao Barroso faced a room full of neighbors to alert them to what he characterized as deceptive tactics by Dominion Transmission to gain access to his land for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a project needed for the vast volumes of gas being extracted through fracking.
• On October 20, Lewis County resident Barbara Volk also spoke before the Lewis County Commission, expressing concern about the impact of fracking upon her land, her quality of life and the community.
• In Pocahontas County, commissioners there have gone on record as promising land owners they will not allow eminent domain to be used by private industry as a means to acquire land.
• In Doddridge County, West Virginia Host Farms and others show the impact of fracking upon the quality of life for people, the land and the wildlife.
• Wetzel County, meanwhile, is the poster child for those needing a visual demonstration as to the damage caused to people, their land, their homes and the environment in which they live.

In short, residents in every county impacted by fracking are being heard, such as those below.

ALUM BRIDGE, Saturday, Oct. 11
Historic Farm Site for Gathering Fracking Opponents

At Myra Bonhage-Hale’s historic herbal farm, known as La Paix (which is French for “Peace”), about a dozen folks from Lewis, Harrison, Gilmer, Uphsur and other counties joined together – many for the first time – to learn from each other about fracking. Those expert in geology, biologist, botany, and water quality were joined by landowners, students and reporters. Milling about in the light mist outside or through Bonhage-Hale’s home, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, the attendees made new friends, gathered additional information, jotted down their thoughts, watched a documentary and took a walk in the woods, discussing how the quiet and solitude offered by the farm may soon be a thing of the past. Indeed, Bonhage-Hale has put the house for sale, not wanting to live with the noise, air and water pollution she is sure will accompany fracking in her remote hollow.

April Keating shares her insights on fracking at La Paix gathering

April Keating shares her insights on fracking at La Paix gathering

Standing on the front porch as three reporters quizzed her, April Keating, sporting a t-shirt that declared, “Everything is downstream,” asked, “Why should the public not expect the legislature to act in our best interests?” She continued, “But they’re not. They are acting in the interests of the industry. We cannot allow this to be done. We must tell them, ‘Enough is enough.’ Water is connected to everything. Water is life.”

WESTON, Tuesday, Oct. 14
Lewis County Resident Questions County Commission about Disaster Readiness
Appearing before the Lewis County Commission on Oct. 14, Weston resident Tom Berlin raised questions regarding the county’s state of preparedness for the potential impacts of the shale gas and oil industry upon the public’s health and safety, as well as the environment.

He said, “I’d like to address you about my concerns over our state of preparedness in Lewis County for potential emergencies, particularly those involving the upcoming large scale development of shale gas and oil within the county.”

He explained, “As you are well aware, in every location in West Virginia and neighboring states, where shale gas and oil have been developed through horizontal drilling and the accompanying hydro-fracking, there have been documented and substantiated incidents that negatively impact community health and wellbeing. Such incidents include spills of chemicals, including frack water and associated chemicals; local water well pollution; stream pollution, resulting from spills and fires, and resulting in killing of fish and other aquatic life; fires and explosions, resulting in air pollution and the evacuation of local residents; leaks of gas and byproducts of refining, again resulting in air pollution, road closures, and evacuations.

“I will not include a list of specific incidents here, as you can read the news and do the research as well as I can. While the industry may argue that such events are rare, that is little consolation to those individuals and communities negatively impacted by those events.”

Berlin continued, “Since the Lewis County Commission is the body that is the first line of protection for the people of Lewis County and who, I’m assuming, place the safety, health, and wellbeing of the citizens of Lewis County as your highest priority, I am here to inquire about the state of your planning for potential disasters and our community’s level of preparedness.

He noted, “I understand that we have a Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) that is to serve Lewis and Upshur Counties. I also understand that the LEPC recently disbanded the Lewis County HazMat Team. I believe that the County also owns or owned two hazardous materials trailers. News reports indicate that some of the equipment and supplies contained in the trailers are likely not useable due to age, or lack of certification.”

He concluded, “I think that part of the responsibilities of the LEPC and of the Lewis County Commission are, among others, to make sure the county has an emergency response plan, to assure that they are prepared to institute the plan, to make sure that the public is informed of all hazardous chemicals being stored, used, or transported within the county.”

In addition to these remarks, Berlin asked the following questions of the county commissioners.

1. What is the status of the LEPC in the county?
2. What is the status of our County HazMat team?
3. What is the status and condition of the two HazMat trailers?
4. What is the status of our emergency response plan and where is it available to the public?
5. Have you included in the plan consideration of the possible impacts of disastrous events associated with imminent large scale shale gas development in the county?
6. We have been watching the progress of the current natural gas boom as it moved through Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle, and on into neighboring counties. What have you been doing, proactively, to make sure that Lewis County is prepared to cope with potential disasters of varying types and sizes?
7. Do you believe that the Lewis County Commission and the citizens of Lewis County should have a current and complete list of the various chemicals being used, stored, transported, and disposed of by the energy industry? What are you doing about this?
8. I believe that you, as a county governmental body… have the authority to demand complete transparency from the various members of the energy industry about the chemicals used in the process of fracking and other aspects of the gas development. Do you agree? What will you do about that?
9. Can you assure me and my neighbors that you place the health, safety, and wellbeing of the citizens of Lewis County above considerations of convenience and profit for energy corporations?
10. If you are not prepared to provide detailed answers to these questions today, when could I expect to see answers?

Asked to respond to the reception he received from the commissioners, Berlin shared, “While I was received cordially, and the commissioners assured me numerous times that they are on top of things and that they are beginning to plan, I informed them that this is not a new development and that observers of the industry have known for years that this was coming. I wondered why they were not planning before. According to the commissioners, they are looking at other counties to see what they have done well and where they have failed, and incorporating that into their plans. I pushed them to recognize that our health, safety, and wellbeing take precedence over the convenience and profits of the industry. They assured me that that was the case. I assured them that I was not actually mollified by their assurances, nor by their plan to rely on industry teams to be the front for responses to events. I did volunteer to be a citizen rep on the disaster planning committee.”

MILL CREEK, Thursday, Oct. 16
Randolph County Landowner Takes on Dominion

Joao Barroso makes a point with neighbors in Randolph County

Joao Barroso makes a point with neighbors in Randolph County

Joao Barroso, speaking at a small community church at what was intended to be an educational forum but instead turned into a shouting match at times, recounted his dealings with Dominion and their subsidiaries since last spring. He has been doing battle with Dominion because of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) that is passing through picturesque Randolph County from its origination point in Harrison County, W.Va. on its path to North Carolina. The pipeline is directly related to fracking. Dominion acknowledges its website, the “Atlantic Coast Pipeline is … a … new interstate natural gas pipeline system from the Marcellus and Utica production areas to Virginia and North Carolina markets.”

Barroso outlined for those in the audience what that meant in reality for a landowner. He vehemently disputed the company’s claims that it would improve the environment of his land or be fair to him economically.

According to Barruso, he first heard of the ACP in April or June. In mid-July, Dominion sent a letter to let him know that the company was planning a pipeline in his area and they intended to survey his property. He revealed, “I was contacted by a gentleman, in an extremely unprofessional way. His correspondence was terse. When I started asking him questions, he tried to intimidate mentioning eminent domain and the importance of the survey.”

Over the next month or so, he exchanged emails asking for answers. He said, “I received no reply to any of my detailed questions. I continued to refuse permission to them to access my property.”

Months of unproductive correspondence continued said Barruso until in early October, he wrote a letter to Russell Johnson, a dominion manager, for land leasing and rights-of-way. Johnson answered that he was “pass[ing] it along to the Dominion land group assigned to this project and ask that an appropriate follow up be provided to [me] promptly.” Barruso had yet to receive a response at the time of his remarks in Mill Creek.

According to Barruso, he is entitled to the following:
• A clear description of the survey, meaning, what will be done on my property, not merely what may be done;
• A clear map showing all possible routes now being considered;
• A clear detailed map of my property, showing where all possible route/s may fall and how said route or routes may affect my property;
• Details as to the characteristics and installation procedures for said pipeline;
• Details as to what will be done on my property, by whom, what equipment may eventually enter my property, etc., and what care and remedial measures Dominion will take, before, during and after said work;
• Draft text of easement agreement;
• A legal document issued by Dominion stating clearly that if and when I grant Dominion and/or its representatives permission to access my property and do said survey, Dominion will be fully and solely responsible for any and all disturbance, accidents and damages, including but not limited to surveyors, equipment, land (above and below surface,) flora and fauna, water (creek, springs, ponds,) notable sites, as well as other persons, including property leasees, my guests and representatives, myself, other people/professionals who may happen to be on the property, etc.;
• Draft of any legal document that will be proposed regarding negotiations, if relevant;
• Since I understand this pipeline is larger than most, I would like to receive from Dominion studies and literature that clearly reflect previous experience with similar projects, their environmental impact, risks, what accidents may occur and how they will be prevented and dealt with, response time in case of explosions, leakages, fires, etc.;
• A document that clearly states how Dominion will handle and call upon itself responsibility for damages and accidents that may occur;
• A list of other property owners affected by this project in at least Randolph County, so that I may evaluate how, as a community, landowners and residents are responding to this project, and what their impressions, experiences and decisions may be so far;
• A detailed list of what Dominion considers benefits that result from this project, both to the local community and individual landowners and other affected parties.

Having to ask his questions demonstrates that Dominion is not responsive to the very people that will be most impacted by it, argued Barruso.

While he is waiting for his answers, he told his neighbors, he wanted them to consider how they should be compensated by Dominion should the pipeline go through their communities. He shared, “For gas pipelines and similar, when projects like these go ahead, companies usually lease, from affected parties, only a portion of the land that is affected; in some cases, tracts of land may be purchased. The conditions negotiated do not usually favor the affected party! It’s time for this to change.”

Specifically, he argued, “These pipelines are laid and remain operational for decades. So, why not ask these companies to pay monthly leases? How much gas is transported through our properties? Make them pay for it according to volume, times linear feet of laid pipeline. A 12” pipeline is one thing, a 42” pipeline is different, and a 32” pipeline is yet another thing. Clearing of land and cutting is different; the risk of explosions and leakages can have very different impacts, same with pollution, noise, disturbances of all kinds, etc. The lease should/could be paid monthly or annually according to the volume of natural gas being moved through the land being leased for the full life-time of the pipeline! On top of that, there should be an initial payment based on land used, work duration, and more. What we have to ask for is a share in the profits; we become, so to speak, “shareholders” or “partners” in this venture. We may even ask that the lease may be updated according to the price the product is sold to the end user. If the consumer sees the cost of gas increase, the royalties for land lease increase as well accordingly.”

WESTON, Monday, Oct. 20
Lewis County Resident Shares Concerns with County Commissioners
Barbara Volk, who lives about 10 miles west of the county seat, went immediately to the point when she began, “I am a land owner in Lewis County and I feel that my concerns about fracking are being ignored.”

A convoy of fracking industry trucks rumble through Weston, W.Va. at lunchtime

A convoy of fracking industry trucks rumble through Weston, W.Va. at lunchtime

Volk acknowledged, “I am not going to present you with scientific studies or evidence as there are other people far more qualified for that, and many independent studies are available,” but added, “I am however going to express my concerns about the dangerous and detrimental effects of fracking, that I have seen personally on the quality of life that I value.” She shared, “On September 16 I attended a public meeting at Jackson’s Mill. This was not a meeting, but very controlled sales pitch by Consol Energy. We were shepherded through their poster board presentations where we were told, ‘This is what we are doing.’ There was no public discourse, no public question and answer period, and when I did finally pin down a representative, I was out right lied to about the number of wells planned for our county.”

Volk continued, “I left that meeting feeling like we were told, you are ignorant, keep your place and do as you are told. It was insulting and offensive.”

She told the commissioners, “I am self employed, and my farm is all I have. Every spare penny that I earn and all of my time goes into re-establishing and caring for the native plants that this state is so well known for and which are mostly gone. My farm is part of the forestry stewardship program, designed to preserve and improve the quality and health of our forests.

Noting that she was part of a global network of organic farms, she said, “I have had people from all over the country and several from Europe come here to learn how to work with horses, garden organically, and harvest both food and medicine from the forest.”

She expressed concern as well regarding the environmental impacts of fracking. “I am concerned about the loss of clean water, the air pollution and the effect it will have on my health, the health of my animals and the health of my soil, where I grow the food that I eat and the medicines that I use. I am concerned about the noise pollution and the light pollution. I am extremely concerned about the loss of the quality of life that I have here and which is so important to me. I am concerned about the loss of property value and the fact that insurance companies are refusing to insure properties near frack sites.”

Volk noted, “I am not alone with these concerns. I have been to some of the counties already fracked, and have seen the polluted streams, heard the jet engine compressors, and seen the flares required to release the pressure. I have seen the destruction of the roads and witnessed some of the accidents.”

She also challenged core argument of fracking companies and proponents. “There is so much emphasis placed on job creation. Well my livelihood is dependent on my living in central West Virginia. I travel all the way to Wheeling in the north and Monroe County in the south east. My livelihood is dependent on being able to drive on safe roads. Just this week on Rt. 33 I was overtaken by three gas company pick ups, two of which passed in a double yellow line. I was driving the speed limit and I can only guess what speed they were traveling. I no longer drive on Rt. 18 because of the number of close calls I have had with oil and gas pick ups and associated vehicles. I can’t avoid driving on Rt. 33.”

Volk remarked, “I am concerned that Lewis County will become a polluted industrial site which will negate any possibility of eco-tourism, one of the truly sustainable industries that could be developed and is flourishing in many areas. The destruction that I have witnessed is not hearsay, is not the sour complaints of ‘tree huggers;’ it is destruction that has very real effects on very real residents of West Virginia.”

Before finishing, Volk challenged the commissioners with a few questions, saying, “I challenge all of you to go up to Doddridge County and see for yourself. Don’t take my word for it and don’t take the oil and gas industries’ word for it. See for yourself. Become informed.” She closed, “So I have a few questions for you:
1. Have any of you been to Doddridge County, met with the residents, and seen what it really means to live with fracking? If not are you willing to do so?
What are the actual number of jobs that you expect to be created for Lewis county residents?
2. What steps are being taken to ensure our safety on the roads with the increase of truck traffic and drivers willing to pass on double lines?
3. What provisions are being made for homeowners who will be affected by loss of land value and insurance?
4. Are you willing to support a moratorium on fracking and all related activities until there can be a review of the Independent studies on the negative impacts of fracking?
5. Will you support a series of public forums where the residents of the county can have access to this information in a forum that is a true question and answer session, not just a company sales pitch?

It remains to be seen if these individual voices, as they are joined by others, will have the impact they desire. Yet, there is no denying they are raising challenging questions – and sounding more like a chorus than soloists.

© Michael M. Barrick / Appalachian Chronicle, 2014. Follow on Twitter @appchronicle

From ‘Almost Heaven’ to ‘Almost Hell’

Lewis County resident planning on selling historic farm to leave West Virginia and escape fracking

By Michael M. Barrick

June 17, 2015
Post Script: Myra Bonhage-Hale moved from her farm earlier this month to return to her native Maryland. She is among the countless number of West Virginians that have become refugees from the fracking industry. – M. Barrick

Note: This is the fourth 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.

A banner displaying the word 'peace' in several languages greets visitors at the farm of Myra Bonhage-Hale

A banner displaying the word ‘peace’ in several languages greets visitors at the farm of Myra Bonhage-Hale

ALUM BRIDGE, W.Va. – Myra Bonhage-Hale, who 34 years ago found peace on her farm in the high rolling hills of western Lewis County, has put her historic property on the market. The reason? The planned development of nearly 300 fracking sites near her property. As she told the Lewis County Commission Oct. 6 in an impassioned presentation, she began, “When I came to West Virginia as a single parent to the abandoned farm now known as La Paix, I thought of it as ‘Almost Heaven.’” Later, as she concluded her remarks, she said, “As I leave West Virginia, with my 34 years of hard work and love and joy and friendship at La Paix behind me, I think of West Virginia as ‘Almost Hell.’ La Paix is for sale. La Paix means peace. I plan to take it with me. The powers that be will not let me keep it here.”

A visit to her farm the week before seemed to foreshadow her remarks. Along one of her walking paths, which has rocks with various small, polished stones embedded in them, one of the rocks was missing its stone. The missing stone said Peace.

Standing in the middle of a garden behind her home on the 110 acre farm, Bonhage-Hale offered, “This is who I am.” Then, alluding to fracking, she added, “It just seems horrible that somebody can come along and devastate this.”

Sign on the front entrance of La Paix

Sign on the front entrance of La Paix

Moving from her art studio, where she also stores herbal products that she makes from her gardens, out into another garden, she shared, “You could sit in the woods an hour a day for the rest of your life and see something new every day.” As if on cue, while she was talking, a number of birds high up in a nearby oak tree starting raising a ruckus. She and a neighbor, Barbara Volk, discussed the various species of birds that they could identify and speculated at what might be making them agitated. Determining it was too late in the year for snakes to be going after a nest, Bonhage-Hale speculated, “I guess they sense, too, that the peace is gone.”

Indeed, even the clamoring of the birds was disturbed by a helicopter flying overhead. “They fly over all the time,” said Bonhage-Hale. “I think they’re taking pictures. It’s very disturbing and intimidating. It is arrogance on display.”

The party moved into the living room of her home. A brief philosophical discussion was held. The prospect of moving was raised. Volk expressed understanding and Bonhage-Hale offered, “I don’t think we can stop this, but we can try.”

The next day, however, Bonhage-Hale registered her home with a real estate agent.

Myra Bonhage-Hale in her studio

Myra Bonhage-Hale in her studio

Then, a few days later, she was at the county commission meeting, inundating them with research about the harms of fracking. She said, “I have worked hard to make La Paix – its beautiful gardens, woods, wild life, 1890 Victorian Farmhouse with attached Log Cabin (circa 1850) – what it could always be. I was able to put my blood, sweat, tears, laughter, joy, love and peace into what it is today. We have had apprentices from West Virginia colleges earn credits in Environmental Studies, apprentices from Japan, India and elsewhere, a Lavender Fair for nine years, workshops, and serene surroundings. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2006.”

She added, “Until just recently, I planned to live here for forever and be able to give its beauty to my children, Bill and Kathleen, and my granddaughter, Aijah.” Continuing, she said, “There is one way in and one way out Crooked Run. This means if drilling is done here it will be difficult for children to get to school, others to get to work and in medical emergencies.”

Pointing out that a surveyor for a gas company had marked the road with red flags, she offered, “So I have here some green flags – green for the earth, green for sustainability, and green for love that grows.” She explained, “The first flag is Respect. We little people, who only own the surface rights, who are here to enjoy nature, our families and each other – we don’t get much respect.”

She continued, “The second green flag is for Resist. Recent reports indicate fracking may indeed be more dangerous for the environment and lead to global warming at rates much higher than previously thought. It pollutes water supplies, kills wildlife and destroys the quality of life in communities where it takes place.” She then offered the three commissioners websites and other resources they could research to verify her claims.

She revealed, “Ohioans are beginning to realize that unconventional shale drilling uses a great deal of water, permanently ruining it for other uses. But what they may not know is fracked gas and oil wells in Ohio are turning out to be less productive over time, with more water needed so the effects of water usage are rising. Now, each time a Utica well is fracked in Ohio, over seven million gallons of water is needed on average per well. Cumulative effects are being seen, as water loss is expected to be 18.5 billion gallons in the next five years.” She also cited numerous studies that show that property values in other states where fracking is taking place are plummeting.

Her third flag was for Renew. “This is what we could be doing instead – for clean energy, for eco tourism and for a sustainable economy. Pointing to another study released just the previous week, she revealed, “Solar energy could the be largest source of global electricity by 2050, ahead of fossil fuels, wind, hydro and nuclear, according to two new reports by the International Energy Agency (IEA).” She continued, “We are destroying our landscape in the name of quick profits for a few people.”

As she concluded her presentation to the commissioners, she momentarily lost her composure. Turning from the podium, her voice quivering, she said to her son, “I need to get out of here.” While she was talking about the commission meeting room, her words were spoken with such determination that one sensed they had a double meaning. She was alluding, as well, it seemed, to West Virginia.

© Michael Barrick / Appalachian Chronicle, 2014.

Unanswered Questions

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.

Myra Bonhage-Hale holds signs with questions she had for Console

Myra Bonhage-Hale holds signs with questions she had for Console

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.

The crowd gathers to learn more from Consol about fracking

The crowd gathers to learn more from Consol about fracking

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.

Learn more:
Health Risks
Public Health Concerns
Fracking Fluids
Damascus Citizens for Sustainability
Triple Divide