Video by Jared Murphy and Mia Patterson
Home Base Inequality
By Matt Miramontes
Fracking and natural gas mining in Pennsylvania is a complicated balance of technology and problems that need an eventual solution. On one hand, there is the income that supplies families and allows companies to thrive in an already competitive market. On the other, communities are seeing the after-effects before any of the return comes as breaking points are reached.
“This tension has hit a boiling point,” Bill Piper, a resident of Elizabeth Township who oversees and acts with Protect Elizabeth Township, a community effort to combine efforts against industry moving in, explains. Protect Elizabeth Township is just one of the many community efforts spread across Western Pennsylvania that works to dismantle the migration of large industry from years of history.
“We mostly just want the smaller guy to get a voice in this fight, it does not have to be so one-sided,” Piper said.
Ultimately pushing themselves under the pressure of big industry, this spotlight comes with a price. Protect Elizabeth Township is mainly possible through the neighbors and locals of Elizabeth Township, which only has a population of 13,110 according to a United States Census Bureau study conducted in 2017.
This community is small in size and tightly knit, which works in their favor as they join together once a month to discuss how exactly to tackle an industry that has seemingly, overpowered communities in the past.
Not far from the Protect Elizabeth Township committee is a similar fight with Protect Penn Trafford, which is run and operated by Executive Director and Co-Founder Gillian Graber. Together, as more communities begin to join hands in the long haul, uphill battle, there begins to be some give for their efforts.
Protect Penn Trafford partners with The Alliance for Aquatic Resources Monitoring (ALLARM), which works to investigate the health of local streams and irrigation systems within Pennsylvanian communities that want to regulate and provide restoration to local waterways.
Many of these partnerships overlap within the protection of community groups as they collaborate for a collection of people that want to push back against fracking in their area. Another key component in the race against a corporation is the Southwest PA Environmental Health Project (EHP).
The EHP works to respond to individual and community need for access to “accurate, timely and trusted public health information and health services associated with natural gas extraction.”
With the collective power of these communities such as Penn Trafford and Elizabeth Township coming together as a continuous force against fracking and the extraction of natural resources, there is hope for an audience that will join alongside them as well.
The Communities United Mentorship Project works as a coalition of these strong-willed areas and the people inside that “strive to be of service to other communities in the Southwestern Pennsylvania region.” It is largely a discussion with community members, showing the youth how to organize groups, how to participate in local processes like legislation and empowering social change within the community.
With these local meetings and daily updates on fracking submissions coming from areas all over Southwest Pennsylvania, the more information groups have the greater the ability to fight for a change for a better future of their communities.
According to StateImpact, a reporting project of NPR member stations, there are 7,788 active wells of natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania alone. Of those active wells, there are 4,006 violations coming in with a total fine amount of $6.1 million with Washington County at the top of the list with 1,146 of the active wells. Washington County is only a nearly 40-minute drive from Downtown Pittsburgh as Allegheny County only holds 63 active wells for natural gas drilling.
It is important to note that the map for StateImpact was last updated in 2015 and since then, according to Fractracker, there are now 12,223 active wells which was last updated on Nov. 13, 2019. This also means that the list of violations has increased with 13,662 violations on active wells in 2019. This is a 9,656 increase between 2015 and 2019.
When observing the map that Fractracker places for its state-by-state analysis, the entire top of Pennsylvania and the entire Southwest quarter of Pennsylvania is lit up like a fireworks display except for Allegheny County. Instead, Allegheny County is surrounded by these active wells with a widespread jump from the first Active Wells in 2002.
While communities cannot do it alone, the work and organization process is a combined position of environmental concern and the stance for keeping big business out of the picture for their area. Groups like Protect Elizabeth and Protect Penn Trafford give just a glimpse into the continuous battle that sees two sides of natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania.