As we approached the holiday season, organizers attended an eye-opening community event and conducted an interview at a gorgeous dairy farm.
Happy Birthday to SOC!
Last year at this time, organizers from Pennsylvania, DC, New York, Ohio, West Virginia and beyond gathered in Lancaster, PA for a conference to discuss working in solidarity with fracking-impacted communities. From that conference, the Shalefield Organizing Committee was born! From that weekend in late December until this July, we deliberated, met, planned, and listened. We finally decided upon our group name, mission, and our first campaign: the Sullivan County Listening Project. We’re now 3 months into the project, and so excited to continue our work!
On December 4th, SOC organizers attended an event at the Sullivan County Courthouse called “Marcellus Matters.” Marcellus Matters was “a landscape design and planning workshop addressing the likely outcomes of gas development in Sullivan County, PA.,” hosted by a group of Penn State professors and students.
In our words, the workshop presented residents of this region the chance to help Penn State affiliates understand more about what parts of Sullivan County people value, in hopes of preserving their visual beauty as another wave of gas extraction poises itself on the county. Organizers joined residents in circling areas of maps of Sullivan County that we thought were valuable, focusing upon the beauty of local landscapes and ridge lines. We were asked to look at photos of different places around Sullivan County, and rate them in order of their importance to us. We heard presentations from students who were studying techniques such as painting compressor stations in camouflage colors to better blend into the natural landscapes around them.
Some students gave presentations on options for alternatives to gas extraction, or ways to help push Sullivan County to a more ecotourism and local agriculture-based economy. We saw presentations on ecotourist resorts that could be built on old coal strip mines, as well as plans for promoting local farming.
SOC organizers had a variety of feelings and analyses regarding this event. On one hand, Marcellus Matters was an excellent opportunity for residents to explain what parts of Sullivan County are important to them and to offer feedback about tourist and agriculture based economies. On the other hand, we exchanged conversations with many residents who were confused about why certain places were considered special and others were not.
Overall, we realized through Marcellus Matters that the gas industry and their allies are strategically invested in creating an atmosphere of community involvement in their expansion throughout Sullivan County. We were excited to witness the collective appreciation of Sullivan County’s beauty – as expressed by local residents. Whether the gas industry will actually take community concerns into account remains to be seen.
On December 10th, SOC organizers had the privilege of sitting in the living room of an older farming couple in a northern township of the county. The couple we met with have been in Sullivan County their entire lives, and so we were excited for the opportunity to hear such a rich history of life here. The couple delighted us with stories of how things used to be in Sullivan County, and we were interested in hearing their take on industry and farming, and the ebbs and flows of each over time in this region.
We heard stories of the rise and decline in industries such as lumber and dairy farming. We learned details about how the economy here has evolved – as the lumber camps and sawmills slowly declined, so did the amount of dairy farms. We learned that with the new increase in gas drilling, many land owners and farmers in the county have an intimate relationship with the economic advantages of owning land and signing a gas lease.
These farmers shared with us that while they have not had a hard time paying their bills in their long history as farmers, they do appreciate the money they received from signing their gas lease. The couple pointed out to us that the money helped them afford things they had not dreamed of before. This is an important fact to highlight as a reality in the shalefields. We also learned that landowners were not paid equally for their acreage, with some leases being hundreds of dollars different per acre from neighbor-to-neighbor. This fact was highlighted to us as an area of question for some landowners.
This interview was important to us not just in hearing about the farmers’ interactions with the gas industry and the infrastructure on their land, but in hearing such a rich and illustrated history of industry, farming and recreation in Sullivan County. We enjoyed stories of how the rural electric co-op companies brought electricity into these rural areas which border the Loyalsock State Forest, and we got to look at old farming artifacts, and hear stories of the way things used to be, and the way things still are for these friendly farmers.
End of the beginning – Looking forward to The New Year!
With the holiday season in full swing, the Shalefield Organizing Committee is transcribing interviews, organizing our finances, and planning our first organizational-wide meeting (in Lancaster, PA) in quite a few months. We’re looking forward to continued outreach & interviews in Sullivan County in the New Year. We can’t thank our supporters enough for providing us with encouragement, materials, and funding to undertake this important work!
Happy Holidays, and thanks for your support!
The Shalefield Organizing Committee