Listening Through a Long Winter

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Dispatch #4:

Listening through a long winter

The Shalefield Organizing Committee has been hard at work in the New Year!

Lancaster Retreat:

Organizers from the NE/Central PA Working Group, along with organizers from Lancaster and Philadelphia SOC, converged in Lancaster for a strategy retreat at the end of January.

The Listening Project group did a report back about the listening project: about what was learned through their interviews, how listening project goals have changed and what future plans project plans are.

One notable change that came out of the retreat, and discussions after the retreat, was that the Frontlines Working Group was renamed the NE/Central PA Working Group. This was in light of a discussion about what it means to be someone directly affected by fracking, as the industry works to expand it’s reach in PA, including a possible export terminal in Philadelphia.

FANG – Fighting Against Natural Gas:

Deirdre, an organizer with the SOC, met Nick of Fossil Free Rhode Island at the second Extreme Energy Summit in Minnesota. Their vision was to bring a group of organizers from throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states to Pennsylvania to see the effects of widespread fracking first hand. Retreat dates were set, planning calls were scheduled and FANG, the Fight Against Natural Gas network became a reality.

Organizers from Rhode Island, New York, West Virginia, Connecticut, Maryland and DC came Columbia County for three days of learning, listening,strategizing and action planning. We started the week with a fracking infrastructure tour in Sullivan County led by a local resident. Our caravan drove past waste impoundment pits, pipeline right of ways, a holding tank, well pads and a compressor station.

After decompressing at our tour guide’s home, we ate at the Sonestown Inn and headed to Tunkhannock for the Environmental Quality Board oil and gas regulations hearing. During the 3 ½ hour hearing, we heard from industry representatives, concerned residents of Pennsylvania and New York, conventional well drillers, and five members our groupabout their thoughts on the Department of Environmental Protection’s proposed new oil and gas regulation and about the shale gas industry in general.

For the next two days we were in the McBride Library in Berwick, opening up to each other about our projects and campaigns; our hopes and our challenges. We heard about the Cove Point Liquid Natural Gas facility in Maryland which is slated to be converted from an import facility to an export facility.

The stories from West Virginia of a state being hit hard over and over again by the coal industry were hard to hear, especially the latest news of the Elk River toxic spill that continues to pollute residents drinking water. In Buffalo, NY, the air quality is one of the worst in the country because of refineries and factories that spew toxic chemicals into the air and water. Nick and others working with Fossil Free Rhode Island are helping residents get their municipalities to divest from fossil fuels and withdraw the financial support of destructive, polluting industries. We listened to each other and built relationships over these three days that we hope will grow even stronger as we continue to collaborate with each other.

Powerful Interviews from Powerful People – Interview Summaries from SOC’s Latest Interviews:

Michelle, originally from Massachusetts, is in her late 50s and lives in Sullivan County.

While she shares many beliefs with her more outspoken husband, Michelle’s approach is much different in discussing how natural gas extraction has affected her and her community. She works at a small, local business, and referenced her experiences there frequently to provide examples of impacts and trends resulting from gas drilling near by. Right off the bat she referenced traffic and noise: the basic unpleasantness of having large groups of transient people coming into your spaces. “My co-workers can’t believe I hold my tongue so well.”

She reported a number of changes since the gas industry came, and then left. “We are now in the bust,” she said, citing having her hours cut at work and needing to find a second job. More than anything else, when asked questions about the general outlook for the area, she said that herself and many of her neighbors often feel unrepresented, and almost hopeless. “I don’t see it coming back,” she said, offering the descriptor of a ghost town for the future of her area. Michelle and her husband moved to Sullivan County only 11 years ago, hoping to have a place to gather family, pass down, and enjoy the natural beauty surrounding them. “That’s gone now,” she said, reluctantly admitting that she and her husband had already started putting thought into moving somewhere. Where? “Anywhere without gas.”

E and B are a couple in their 70’s.  They live on a secluded mountain in northern Sullivan County:

E and B are also transplants to PA. They left their previous home looking for somewhere more quiet and less trafficked after living on a major interstate. They were the only people in their area to refuse to sign a gas lease. This has caused a strain on their relationships with neighbors.

The subject of gas leases has caused direct conflict with neighbors, as well as with gas men, who E and B at various times had to force off their property using threats, including guns.

Throughout the interview E made frequent reference to his long-time industrial manufacturing job, citing exposure to hazardous materials, mistreatment of workers, and the failure of the government to regulate big business.  He felt this as a worker, and then saw similarities from a different perspective: when witnessing and interacting with the gas industry.

B and E both expressed a lack of hope for a better future with gas drilling in their area, and felt stuck. As retired people living on a fixed income, they would not have enough money to move to a new place if they wanted to. This added to a sense of isolation and a lack of control, which they expressed with anger and frustration. On the positive side, B cited a few empowering experiences of forcing gas workers off her land, and confronting politicians at local hearings related to drilling and infrastructure. Regarding a potential water withdrawal site, she said “I will stand in the creek with everyone I know and stop you from taking this water.”

We have a new member of the NE/Central PA Working Group! Here is what Zora had to say about her first week working on the Listening Project:

This is my first week as a part of the Shalefield Organizing Committee and I helped conduct two separate interviews this week. Both interviews were with people much older than myself (I’m 23), but we all had something in common: we were originally from out of state.

In both interviews, we asked what had brought these people to Sullivan County, and the answer was the same: the calm, natural beauty and a slower lifestyle. This is something I can identify with. Coming from a big, loud city, I came to PA looking to spend some time being calm and focused, while still being involved in work that had purpose and passion behind it. The SOC listening project is just that kind of work. Helping to collect personal stories and identify needs and trends in a geographical area is something that takes time and care.  Each individual matters. It is a great privilege to be able to sit and talk with people about their lives, and to hopefully take all of these interviews and turn them into something bigger is a challenge that I’m excited to be a part of.

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