BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. – I first learned of fracking several years ago while living in North Carolina. What I learned from my initial research quickly convinced me that it presented risks to people and the environment and thus required further study. A few years later, in May 2012, I had my first exposure to fracking. Visiting a farm in Doddridge County, I had to dodge numerous huge trucks entering and exiting the narrow, one-lane road. Upon arriving, I learned from the owner that the trucks were a constant presence in their formally quiet hollow. It was all part of construction activities associated with building a well pad.
Later that day I got a disturbing introduction to fracking’s impact on a community’s quality of life. Climbing to the highest point on the property with several others, the customary, comforting sounds of nature – birds chirping, a light breeze rustling the leaves, a squirrel scampering up a tree – were interrupted by an ominous pounding. It was heavy equipment preparing the site for the well pad bringing the never-ending flow of trucks into the heretofore quiet valley.
A convoy of gas trucks rumble through downtown Weston, W.Va. at lunchtime.
Photo by Michael Barrick
Then, a little more than two years after that, when I was working in a local hospital, I was called to the emergency department because a patient had presented with exposure to an unknown chemical. He had been injured at a well pad site. He and his clothes had been soaked by the frack fluid being used to fracture the rock thousands of feet below. He was complaining of burning eyes and skin. He did not know what chemical he had been exposed to, and there was no Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) on site so far as he knew, he told me.
Because we didn’t know exactly what we were dealing with, I asked him if I could ask him a few questions. He agreed. Essentially, the questions were phrased so that we could learn what we were dealing with, if it was likely we’d see it again, how many others workers could be exposed to it, and any other risks that it might pose. The worker understood his answers would benefit others; however, when his supervisor arrived from the field, he told the injured worker he should not answer any more questions. Intimidated, he clammed up. I had seen enough though. The young man was clearly in pain, the odor of the chemical(s) on his clothes nauseating, and his company representative didn’t want him talking. I suspected we were dealing with some bad stuff.
An uncontrolled gas well fire in Doddridge County.
Photo courtesy of Ed Wade Jr. and Wetzel County Action Group.
So, my first impression of the fracking industry was that “being a good neighbor” isn’t important to them. Extracting gas, regardless of the cost to people and the environment, is. This, combined with the history of the energy extraction industry in West Virginia and the science regarding fracking’s impact upon people and the environment, has caused me to conclude that fracking must be banned.