EARTHWORKS

Tim Ruggiero: Leaving Gasland

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By Tim Ruggiero

January 4, 2012

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The matter of drill rigs outside the Ruggiero's kitchen window has been resolved. They have moved out of Gasland.

Our ordeal living in Gasland has ended. All I can say about it, and all I care to say about it, is that “The matter has been resolved”.

Read into that how you will, I'll say no more about it.

As my family and our animals begin our new life in Pilot Point, TX, where the air is clean, and the water supply free of drilling chemicals, I have been fielding a number of calls and emails about our new life.

"So, you're moving?"..yes.

"You sell your house?"...yes.

"Who did you sell your house to?...the matter has been resolved.

"Oh".

Someone asked if I felt we had ‘won or lost’, obviously looking for details. That got me to thinking.

Regardless of where one lives in Gasland, whether it is the urban setting or rural, I’m hard pressed to say that there is no such a thing as ‘winning’, only degrees of losing...

When the drillers first show up, one loses any sense or belief one has about personal property rights. One learns the hard way the definition of ‘split estate’, and that somewhere along the line, someone decided that mineral rights trump all other rights, including any one thought they had according to the U.S. Constitution.

When the constant noise comes, with the 24/7 screech of the rig brakes on pipe, stadium lighting blinding, huge plumes of diesel exhaust, non-stop semi truck traffic at all hours of the day and strange workmen tramping around just a few feet from one’s home, one tends to lose faith. Not in God, but in the State. The very same agencies -- the TCEQ, TRRC, and even the EPA to a large extent -- are either unwilling or unable to help anyone.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality are people appointed by the Gashole Governor, and he’s all for tearing up the entire state of Texas, if need be, to keep the gas flowing. The Commissioners have their marching orders, and they are loyal soldiers.  They're just not loyal to us.

The Texas Railroad Commission, the chief regulatory agency of oil and gas in Texas, couldn’t be more corrupt. Every one of them, led by conflict-of-interest Chairman Elizabeth Ames Jones, sees their job as promoting oil and gas development.  Not actually regulating it.

Commissioner David Porter refers to people like me as ‘unsatisfied landowners’. He is absolutely correct; I couldn’t be more unsatisfied with the TRRC’s lack of knowledge, ability or desire to help the very same people they are supposed to be protecting. The lack of enforcement actions and denial of the few enforcement actions on rare recommendation is proof enough of that.

Chairman Jones uses her position to testify before U.S. Congress, extolling all the so-called ‘benefits’ of natural gas development, and denies any water contamination is due to hydraulic fracturing. Her testimony was an appalling display pandering for congressional support in her then run for U.S. Senate. Perhaps she’s merely splitting hairs, as she has recently acknowledged reports of ground water contamination due to surface spills. This distinction brings little comfort to those with contaminated water, where testing results shows drilling chemicals in their drinking water.

When the drilling is complete, and the production begins, one loses any sense of well being and suffers from ill health effects. The gas emissions are constant, and the equipment is often faulty.

If one complains enough, the driller will install a flare and then burn those gases instead of just releasing them into the air. In doing so, the drillers will credit themselves for ‘improving’ the air quality, although it’s simply trading one emission for another. There’s nothing ‘safer’ or ‘better’ about these emissions.

When one complains to the TCEQ, they will conduct an air sample. If the sampling proves to be above limits, the TCEQ will say their equipment is faulty. When the sampling is below limits, then they say it’s ‘acceptable’ and ‘within EPA guidelines’.  It makes little difference that one’s exposure to Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene and Xylenes were ZERO prior to the drilling. And diesel exhaust? TCEQ does not measure that.

When the production falls, and it falls fast, losing as much as 50% or more within the first year, the drillers bring in a compressor station or two. (Or FIFTEEN, like Chesapeake is attempting in the middle of a residential neighborhood in Fort Worth) one loses any sense of tranquility and peace and sleep, as the noise is loud and constant. The compressors emit not only a loud noise, but also low frequency vibration. Is it truly unknown the cause of acoustic vibrostic disease in people who do not work in an industry where this occurs, but only because they live next to compressor stations?

When one has thoroughly exhausted all potential remedies -- the TCEQ, TRRC, County Commissioners and Judges, County Sheriff, EPA, U.S. Senators and Congressmen, Texas State Senators and Congressmen -- one realizes there’s only two choices about the future:

  1. Stay and risk their health and that of their children, put a strain on their marriage and relationship with their children, or
  2. Leave and risk their credit.

The decision is not easy, but there really is only one choice; One has to leave, as credit can always be repaired, health cannot. When children have sudden unexplained nosebleeds, that’s the huge flag waving that says it’s time to go, get out now.

So we have left Gasland, and life begins anew.

We cannot get back what we have lost over the last two years, but we are, by the grace of God, able to start over away from Gasland.

I can say that our ordeal has strengthened my faith in God, solidified my marriage, and given me the opportunity to spend time with my daughter instead of fighting with elected and appointed officials, filing public information requests, and losing sleep over what catastrophe will come next. I look forward to videotaping my daughter’s swim meets, not the next spill, leak or tank venting.

Leaving Gasland is not winning, it’s merely an end to losing. I will continue my work with Shaletest, continue on speaking tours, both with Mayor Calvin Tillman and perhaps occasionally without, and I will continue to speak out for those who have been negatively impacted by natural gas well development.

Tim Ruggiero
Pilot Point, TX


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