Life in the Gas Lane: Living with Drilling, Part II-a
Due to sheer, ridiculous length, I've broken the environmental effects into smaller sections. This one deals with traffic and the resultant problems. As I said before, although I'm covering them separately, these impacts are not segregated, but ripple into and magnify others.
Dust and Exhaust
The most noticeable environmental impacts currently being seen are those caused by the huge increases in traffic -- both the heavy-truck (18-wheeler) type and the big pickups used by all the companies, but also the smaller personal vehicles of the workers and the wanna-be workers who followed the industry here. We used to say that a traffic jam was four cars following a tractor. Now, every single town (with the exception of those in the Valley) is seeing long lines at the red lights.
Driving through Wysox on Rte 6 into Towanda, a distance of about 2 - 2.5 miles, sometimes can take up to 30 minutes; previously I could make that trip in less than 10 -- and that was if I caught the red light by McDonald's. Left turns onto Rte 6 are nearly impossible at certain times of the day, and turning left into homes and businesses can be a challenge as well.
Traffic going west bottle-necks at the Towanda end of the Veterans' Memorial Bridge because the vehicles turning south toward Rte 220 have a limited green light and a short turning lane. Nearly all the tanker trucks are turning left in order to avoid traveling through the downtown, so you can have up to two miles of traffic, mostly heavy trucks, idling or doing the stop-and-go. Some of them do have to go through town to reach their destinations, so there are traffic issues there, as well as in North Towanda (where there ought to be traffic lights but PennDOT has never seen fit to install them).
Although there's no testing being done (or planned, AFAIK), we're probably seeing reduced air quality in the Wysox/Towanda area as a result of the exhaust. I can't give firm numbers on how much more traffic we're seeing, but I'd guesstimate somewhere between a 500-1000% increase -- probably closer to the 1000% mark.
In addition to the exhaust, there is a noise problem. That many rigs simply causes a lot of noise on their own, but throw in trucks accelerating onto the bridge, jake brakes, and the roar of diesel engines from the pickups, and the noise level can become intolerable.
Outside the towns, things are worse, in the sense that many homes never saw this much traffic go by in a year, before drilling. Once-quiet, peaceful country roads are busy night and day, and residents are dealing with huge numbers of trucks on the road at all hours and the increased noise, vibrations, and dust they bring. From the Binghamton (NY) Press & Sun-Bulletin:
"Living only a few feet from (U.S.) Route 6, I not only hear the traffic at all hours, but I can feel it," said Debbie Finnerty of Burlington. "My home shakes every time the dump trucks barrel through."
"It's very noisy and our house shakes a lot more, too," said Mary Bradley, 42, of Luthers Mills.
Most roads in the county are narrow, curving, hilly lanes -- which, it's often joked, were created by getting a mule drunk, harnessing it to a log, and following the path it left. Whether it's a county road or a township one, they were never designed to handle such a load, thus they're crumbling under the constant pounding and the weight of freshwater tankers, wastewater tankers, gravel trucks, drilling equipment, and dozens of white heavy-duty pickups going back and forth -- often at speeds unsafe for the roads themselves, but also for others. (This past winter was interesting as the flat-landers learned to drive in the snow, on hills.) This isn't only a problem of unfamiliar drivers, however. Locals working for the gas companies are doing the same.
These broken roads and dirt access roads mean lots of dust being thrown into the air, coating homes, cars, and making it impossible to keep the windows open -- something that can get rough when most country homes don't use air-conditioning. For those with breathing problems, the increased dust can make an irritating situation grow to a serious one.
Some municipalities were smart and bonded their roads, but a few didn't. Those that did are having problems getting the gas companies to keep up their end of the maintenance agreements. Those that didn't... well, they're looking at loans and their taxpayers are going to end up footing the bill.
Due to all this, PennDOT is posting a 10-ton weight limit on all the back roads owned by the state, requiring gas companies to get permits for oversized loads (which the state police are cracking down on) and forcing them to sign maintenance agreements for repairs. PennDOT has also closed several roads (effectively shutting down the work sites), including one closed for two weeks after Chesapeake failed to repair it despite two warnings. Closures are effective simply because they put the site behind schedule, hurting the company's bottom line.
At the same time, however, many of the road builders, paving companies, etc are being contracted by the gas companies, making it harder for private citizens and business owners who need driveways or parking lots done as well as various conservation agencies. Either they wait a long time, or they pay gas company rates. (The River Reporter)
“They’ve locked up every contractor and road crew within several counties for the materials and road repair. That drives up prices for contracting. It’s harder to find rock and the contractors to do stream repair because the gas industry is utilizing them,” said Bradford County Conservation District Manager Mike Lovegreen.
In Part II-b, I'll look at current impacts on our water, while II-c will look at the effect of drilling on the landscape.
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Once again, I throw out the caveat that, like the previous post, my comments are based on my personal observations, conversations with friends and family, community discussions, and local newspaper articles.
And I add the warning that this is based on my experiences, mostly in the Wysox and Towanda area. I can't really speak for the effects (except in very general terms) in other towns and communities. Some things are county-wide, some seem limited to (or worse in) my area, possibly because it is roughly at the center of the county and is the county seat.