A Dairy Farmer Shares Her Story About Fracking: “What Have We Done?”

Op-ed by Carol French for PublicHerald.org 

Carol French stands on her dairy farm in Bradford County, Pa., with heirloom tomatoes harvested from her garden. Once a lease-holder and supporter for fracking, she turned against it after her neighbors began to experience problems and her water became undrinkable. © J.B.Pribanic

In the early spring of 2006, a nice man was in the area, promoting a chance to dream of better times for Bradford County and its farmers. There was promise of jobs for everyone and the farmer would generate money from signing a lease, and if a gas well was drilled on the farmer’s property he would become rich.

Two years passed with little activity. By now, the older leases were about to expire, gas companies were beginning to drill, and excitement was in the air. Here, the majority of farmers signed early, receiving $5- $85/per acre. There was this belief that the person with the gas well would become the next “shaleionaires.” We later found out small acre properties started signing leases at $2,500/ per acre.

A natural gas well pad in Bradford County, Pa., near the home of Carol French. © J.B.Pribanic

By the spring of 2009, there was uneasiness among some of the farmers who had a gas well drilled on their property. The local newspaper was reporting contamination found in water wells, death occurring on a gas pad and the farmer was facing the fact that he could lose his farm due to a lawsuit based on the gas companies operation. For myself, I was thinking that our lucky neighbor was going to become the next Millionaire, because they had the gas well drilled on them. Soon my mind changed. Those farmers were facing penalties lodged against them, due to their land becoming industrial use instead of agricultural use.

In December, 2010 to January 2011, three gas wells were drilled near our farm. Farmers were seeking out lawyers for advice, because of the gas company’s exploitation of the lease agreement. Many were beginning to question, what have we done? Farm land was getting ripped up like old material for a patch work quilt. In the middle of 2011, five more gas wells were drilled around our farm. Two of the gas wells were less than 4,000 feet away.

My neighbor (Carolyn) and I attended a presentation by a professor from Penn State University. He made a statement, saying that we must sacrifice; it was our patriotic duty to assure our Country would be independent from foreign oil.

I could not wrap my mind around what he was saying. Was there legislation insuring that our natural resources would stay in this country? What did he mean we would have to sacrifice?

My water changed March 15, 2011. It now turns white, with a green moss settling on top of sand. Then the water becomes gelatin like.

Carol French holding water that she believes is contaminated due to hydraulic fracturing, a.k.a. fracking. © J.B.Pribanic

My daughter became sick in October of that year with a fever, weight loss (10 pounds in 7 days), and severe pains in her abdomen. At the hospital they found her liver, spleen and her right ovary were extremely enlarged. My daughter moved out of the state.

Our neighbor living north of us had the same health issues after her water changed in March of that year, except her spleen burst three days after she went to the hospital.

We knew our daughter would have to leave Pennsylvania in order to have a chance of a healthy, normal life. We don’t drink the water or the milk from our cows now. We still have to bathe in it. Our state agency refuses to test our water; therefore the gas company will not provide water for our cows and my family.

I now believe I understand what he meant by, “we are to sacrifice.”

It is now October 3, 2012. Many that quit their previous job to work for the gas-related companies are now unemployed. We have become “prudent partners” with the gas company; by signing a lease, we now are finding ourselves responsible for their debts (Mechanic’s Liens).

A calf at the French’s dairy farm in Bradford County, Pa. © J.B.Pribanic

There are for sale signs in the yard of a contaminated farm that lost 80%-90% of its value, and could lose its milk market. Who will buy his cows? On our farm, we and our cows have rashes on our bodies. I wonder constantly if the milk contains the chemicals that may be in my water, but the regulators don’t test for it.

So many living in our county have “changed” water, and are depending on water being provided to them by the gas company. The gas companies chose not to pay for the water at one point, then the water stopped coming [i.e. gas companies stopped delivering bottled water or water buffalos]. Others have been provided filtration systems, increasing their electric bill and additional cost for filters. The filtration systems don’t seem to have the capability to filter out all of the chemicals migrating into the water sources. In addition to these problems, we have seen trees die, due to the frack water – or “produced water” – and hydro chloric acid spills in Franklin Township.

I wonder, “How safe is our food that is produced or grown in what was once a pure agricultural land, and is now becoming an industrial waste land surrounded by slick water hydrofracking?” Carolyn [neighbor] and I have asked this question and were told to be quiet.

Will these private gas companies produce natural gas for this country, or produce it for overseas, selling it to the highest bidder? This would crush the theory of ‘sacrifice for a country independent from foreign oil.’

Our Local, State, and Federal government have made choices based on conflicts of interest. Many of the attorneys we seek advice from had a conflict of interest as well. For example: If the landowner could not afford the attorney’s fee, the attorney would simply attach his name to the royalty interest for payment. Landowners that are considering making deals with the gas companies must seek the truth, must know where to look. Carolyn and I found truth through researching the records in the court house and our state regulatory agencies (Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection).

We also encourage people to talk to landowners that have gone through what they are considering.

We, the large land owners, mostly farmers, were given a chance to dream, not knowing the true value of what lies so far beneath our land; not aware of the type of operations that would be conducted on our land. We believed in the false promises made by that kind man, we now know as a “landman.” Yes, there have been a few that have prospered from the gas activity in our area. Some people are living in denial, and for others it has become a nightmare.

Now we are finding ourselves asking the question, what have we done?

[Carol French’s story also appears in the film Triple Divide.] 

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  • Jenny L.

    Thanks Carol French for valiantly sharing your story. Even though it may be a terribly long time before your land heals and your water is purified, we hope that good sense and justice will pervail and this industry is stopped in their tracks and held accountable -sooner than later! Having to sacrifice your health, cows and drinking water and to have to send your beloved children away from home to protect them is something that no one, ever, should be expected to have to do!!!

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  • Bob V

    Ms. French:
    “Will these private gas companies produce natural gas for this country, or produce it for overseas, selling it to the highest bidder? This would crush the theory of ‘sacrifice for a country independent from foreign oil.’” If you even thought that this may be the case then it probably will be what will happen. What do you think drives these companies? Patriotism? I know that in spite of whatt he Penn State professor stated tha you cannot be that naive. You know what drives those folks GREED! They don’t give a crap about you or your neighbors because they don’t have to live there. I am sorry you have found ot the hard way however, when soeone makes you a deal that sounds too good to be true it usually is. How many of your neighbors became millionaires? Based on your article it seems like…NONE. Bewae of Greeks or anyone lse bearing gifts. I hope these bad experieces that folks are having cause others to carefully considerthe consequences before signing up for a gas or oil frack well.

    • Carol

      As with everyone living in my rural community, made up of mostly farmers, we looked at the leasing process like we have for the past forty years. You lease for next to nothing and they do nothing on your land. We have been told for most of those years that it was a government subsidy, and that they needed to lease with this money or they would lose their subsidy money. When they offered the $25/per acre, we thought something was up, but couldn’t find anything. We looked for 8 months to learn what we could, and then everyone began to sign. One reason was money was getting tight and then most of the neighbors were signed by then. Since 2006 we have NOT signed another agreement and finally after Chesapeake sold our mineral interest after our lease ran out, our lease has been released! People must understand that you need your “release of lease” recorded in the court house or it means NOTHING for your lease to expire. I thought by sharing my story it would help others in their decision making.

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  • http://Earthspeak.org Leslie Scales

    Hate to dump more bad news, but they probably shouldn’t even bathe in the water. Some heavy metals like chromium penetrate skin instantly, thus cannot be filtered. Only reverse osmosis removes chromium. And uses 3x amount of water so is not always practical. Sorry

  • B Middelton

    I’m removing “Dairy Market Central” from my iPad since it posts environmental propaganda like this above story. By-by, Dairy Market Central!

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