On Friday, December 9th, I accompanied Julie Archer on a trip to Wetzel County to view the impact fracking has had on the area. Rising early and powered by caffeine, we arrived at small shop know as the Wetzel County Store. There we mingled with fellow WV-SORO members, activists, county representatives, and a Public Radio reporter. Rose and Ed, Wetzel County Action Group members, were our guides through a horror show of industrial carelessness.
What followed was a surreal tour through a landscape that had been fractured by industry. For six hours, we were escorted to numerous farms turned fracking sites. Drilling and fracking are omnipresent in Wetzel County. Every plot of land has a well site or a story that explains the lack of one. As we drove through a low-lying flood plain, Rose showed us a plot of land with a small cinder block building on the property. This building was built to turn the farmland into a residential area and to take advantage of legislation preventing wells from being placed within a certain distance of homes. Not a minute later, we were shown a proposed fracking site, moved because its location in a flood plain violated EPA requirements. The site was relocated to an adjacent location in the same flood plain. Under-funded and understaffed state inspectors are poorly equipped to play cat and mouse with drillers.
What I heard in the voice of everyone I met that day in Wetzel County was desperation and exhaustion. Each individual was tired. Here were people used to hard work, self-sufficient souls whose community had been united in labor and spirit until men in suits with large trucks came to town. Worn down from anger, fear, hope, and the retelling of their tales, the cost of fracking is etched into their faces. When sad tales are told over and over again, one wonders if healing can happen. When can this land and people begin to heal?
Despite their exhaustion, Wetzel County residents were determined, and freely offered advice. Rose mentioned numerous times that base line water and air tests should be performed before fracking begins in an area. Without these tests, companies can dismiss any environmental effects as pre-existing conditions. Both Rose and Ed encouraged people to follow their “CB and Camera” tactics, documenting every action that companies take in their community. Ed’s sixteen-hour days stalking Chesapeake’s movements are a hard example to emulate, but this tactic does pay off. Rose also expressed a need for better education regarding company tactics and surface owners’ rights. Rose and Ed expressed concern over a lack of state regulation and that residents have been forgotten.
Anger and exhaustion were traveling companions on our way back to Charleston. For my part, I wondered how long folks could hold up under such pressure. What would happen if a large or deadly enough accident occurred? What will happen to Wetzel County when this boom is over? Driving home in the dark, we said little. All I know is that despite the environmental damage, the safety concerns, abuses, and destruction, hope is present in Wetzel County. If they can keep fighting, so can we! More at www.wvsoro.org.