Monday, November 22, 2010

Conference Says Gas Drilling Ruins Communities

Two homeowners at the 2010 People’s oil and gas Summit in Greentree over the weekend told those gathered that when gas drillers come to town so does a raft of social and economic problems. Stephanie Hallowich purchased land in Hickory PA a few years ago. She and her husband built their dream house and set about raising their two kids. Not long after they finished their construction, a much heavier construction began just off their property. The area around their home is now dotted with gas drilling pads, retention ponds, pipelines, and processing facilities. She says they have tried to sell the house but can find no takers. In the meantime, they are looking for a place to rent to get away from the odors and chemicals they saw waft on to their front yard every day. “We have been talking to realtors and they say that rental prices are anywhere from three to four times what they normally would be because there are so many people moving in to work at these sites,” says Hallowich. She says people who are only there for the fleeting gas drilling jobs are forcing out people who want to take permanent jobs and set down roots in the region. Hallowich has become a vocal opponent of drilling and says she has become a lightening rod for people on both sides of the issue. Hallowich says other parents come up to her “completely scared to death.” She says now that people are seeing what the gas wells bring with them they don’t know what to do. “It’s becoming a marital issue because the husbands just see the money but at the same time moms instinctively want to protect their kids.” On the other hand, Hallowich says some large land owners are coming up to her angry at her efforts, “They tell me… they really don’t care, they just want the signing bonus money because they will be so rich they can pack up and move and they don’t care what’s left behind.”

Hallowich and Wyoming landowner Jill Morrison both warned the audience about skyrocketing wages. Hallowich says there are men without college degrees who are being lured away from their 20-thousand dollar a year job at local business to take on 60-thousand dollar a year temporary jobs at drill pads. But she says that money comes with the need to stay quiet about what they are seeing on the job site. Morrison says she has seen crime increase in her community and that is not an isolated incident. “Not only in Sweetwater County but in Campbell county Sheridan County and Johnson County, they have all been increasing the size of their jail,” says Morrison. In fact, researchers even have a name for it. They call it Gillette Syndrome named after a town that saw a coal-mining boom in the 1970’s and saw crime increase at the same time.

Morrison says the state is taxing the gas but not enough of the money is coming back to the local governments. “These rural roads that used to get maybe a dozen cars a day now get thousands of heavy vehicles, and the counties are saying, ‘hey, we don’t have the money to maintain these roads, we can’t deal with this traffic,’” says Morrison.

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