Union Township, Washington County, Pennsylvania. Population 5,600. It was the kind of place that some people might have dreamed of raising their children; the kind of place where a photo of a winter’s eve, with snow covered hills might have graced someone’s Christmas card.
For Gary Baumgardner and his wife, Union Township was that kind of place, until EQT moved in and began drilling. Quiet nights have been replaced with the sounds of fracking. The fresh air replaced with plumes of smoke and sulfuric odors.
Nine months ago, the Baumgardners celebrated the birth of their first grandchild, a little girl. The first Christmas with a first grandchild is a very special occasion. The Baumgardner family had a tradition of hosting Christmas dinner in their home surrounded by family and friends.
This year the tradition will be broken.
Their nine-month old granddaughter is not permitted to be near active drilling sites per doctor’s orders, and there is an active EQT drill site next door.
A number of times, Baumgardner and other residents had complained about noise and odors emanating from EQT’s well site, located on property owned by Trax Farm.
In December of 2013, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared unconstitutional parts of Act 13, which limited local zoning control in favor of a statewide standard guiding where natural gas wells could be drilled.
Georgann and Gary Baumgardner had seen the ruling as a turning point in their struggle against EQT Corp., which began drilling in early November on nearby Trax Farm in Washington County, just over the Allegheny County line. The process has been wafting diesel fumes, noise and vibrations into their home — and seems to be consuming their lives.
One day, their bedroom air monitor flashed orange and the odor drove the family out of their Cardox Road house for hours. Another day, their daughter Rachel Cecchini, then eight months pregnant, moved out of the house next door and into a rental home several miles away — abandoning the painted nursery and her 93-year-old grandfather.
EQT has built sound walls, put residents up in hotels and offered cash settlements, while Union Township has debated the merits of residents’ complaints and the company’s efforts to address them at many public meetings since drilling began.
“This is not a blip on our radar,” said Linda Robertson, manager of media relations with EQT. “We have spent a lot of time and energy, and I think there are some people who have understood the attempts we’ve made.”
Ringle-Ringle , Coins when they Mingle
EQT did resolve some of the problems. EQT’s approach was not to change or improve their activities and thus stop the noise, dust, light, smoke, odors, fumes, soot or other air pollution, vibrations, and/or adverse impacts, but rather to throw money at the residents who were complaining.
EQT offered approximately 19 property owners a total of $50,000 each for signing a Noise and Nuisance Easement. (The original offer was $40,000.)
In signing the Noise and Nuisance Easement, these property owners granted EQT easements for noise, dust, light, smoke, odors, fumes, soot or other air pollution, vibrations, adverse impacts or other conditions or nuisances which may emanate from EQT activities.
Additionally , the property owners gave away their right files any claims against EQT, agreed to being gagged, and the Noise and Nuisance Easement is attached to the property forever, no matter who may own it in the future.
Baumgardner said he had attorneys review the Noise and Nuisance Easement offer and decided not to sign for fear of having his freedom of speech suppressed.
At a Union Township Supervisors Meeting on December 8, 2014, Baumgardner inquired about EQT’s fracking plans for Christmas.
Would EQT stop fracking operations for Christmas? No.
Stephanie Paluda, an EQT spokeswoman who attended the meeting, said the company will most likely continue fracking operations on Christmas. She said hydraulic fracturing started Friday, and the site is an around-the-clock operation.
For the Baumgardners, their Christmas celebration will be bittersweet. The first Christmas with their first grandchild held in the family tradition has been fracked and lost forever.
Wish EQT a Merry FRACKmas
©2014 by Dory Hippauf