How fracking affects a community in Pennsylvania

As controversial drilling for shale gas continues in Lancashire, Peter Marshall travels to the United States to see first hand how life has changed for people who have spent years living with fracking.

Bradford County, Pennsylvania, is one of the most fracked places on the planet.

Its gas-rush, which began in earnest in 2008, has seen around 600 wells drilled deep into the Marcellus Shale.

The county seat is the town of Towanda. If you want to know what a gas-rush does to an area there is no better place to look for answers.

First impressions? It is busy. It seems every other truck is carrying water or sand to serve the fracking industry.

Hair falling out

Locals complain their predominantly rural life style has been industrialised by the gas industry. Some call it an occupation. Regulars chatting at a local club accept it has brought jobs – but at a price.

I asked one woman: “What’s fracking doing to this community?”

“Raping it,” was her stark reply. “Tearing our roads apart – not to mention what it’s doing to the countryside. Have you seen it?”

I had. Huge clearings cut through hillside forests to allow for pipelines – well pads dotted around the landscape. And traffic. So much traffic.

Down in the village of Dimock, I met Bill Ely whose party piece is setting fire to his water supply. He said it has been contaminated with methane ever since he leased his land to a drilling company.

They now truck in his drinking water – but deny their operations have caused the contamination. They say there is a history of naturally occurring methane in the area.

Hair dresser Crystal Stroud claimed that within days of drilling starting near her home her hair started falling out and she became seriously ill.

Tests showed her water was contaminated with barium, but a department of environmental protection investigation decided drilling was not to blame and that the contamination was pre-existing.

‘Christmas every day’

Like others whose wells have become undrinkable she believes it is too much of a coincidence.

The industry said opponents are a vocal minority, and it is true that fracking has created fortunes.

“It’s like Christmas every day,” said hotelier Gregg Murrelle. His hotels became so busy with gas workers that he had to build a new one.

It is block-booked for two years by a single company.

The county has the lowest unemployment rate in Pennsylvania. Even jewellers are making money by creating diamond encrusted derricks.

It brings jobs and money and to some extent it has recession-proofed the economy.

It could do the same in Lancashire where latest forecasts are that anything between 200 and 800 wells could be drilled in the next two decades.

But it will not do it without changing the face of areas that are affected.

Advice from the good folk of Pennsylvania is split. Some said do not do it. Others said welcome it with open arms.

One thing they all agree on, life after drilling will not be the same as life before it.

From BBC News:

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