Well, the city of Marietta has had its first taste of how little the companies who are coming here to drill our land and extract our gas and oil care about us. On Monday, June 9, I was sitting in my kitchen contemplating a rare day off from the business I own with my husband. The house started shaking as though a convoy of heavily-laden coal trucks had passed by. I've lived on a double truck route (Ohio 60 and Ohio 7) for 20 years, so I know what a truck vibration feels like. During the next 20 minutes, the intensity of the vibrations escalated, even as it waxed and waned. I was convinced that we were having earth tremors. I stood underneath the door header, waiting for them to abate. Finally, all hell broke loose. Every glass pane in my house was rattling at top volume. At the same time a coffee cup and screwdriver vibrated off my kitchen counter (my counter has a 1/8-inch lip, so this is no easy task). The coffee cup smashed and cut my foot. I had been standing under the door header in the kitchen, but decided that I had to get out of the house as I was convinced that I was about to be buried in brick and plaster. I burst out the front door and looked towards the intersection of Third and Washington, which is about 125 feet from my front door. There was a wall of giant gleaming white trucks all hooked together with discs protruding from their bellies, vibrating the ground. I stared in disbelief - this madness was being caused by other human beings? I was immediately furious. I ran to the intersection where traffic was backed up both ways waving my arms like a mad woman. The drivers high above me with their dark glasses looked straight ahead and wouldn't even look down at me, the flaggers ignored me. The one Ohio State trooper sitting in the middle of the intersection said that she knew nothing except that they were doing this to all the state routes in Ohio. At that moment, having been convinced just a few minutes earlier that I was about to die, I felt like I had been transported to a different world, one where all the rules have changed.
Based on the little information she gave me about the testing being done on state routes, I immediately called the local ODOT office. The secretary said that they knew nothing about it. I called again. She then said that they had received notice just that morning that the trucks would be coming through town. I asked her to put me in touch with someone higher up in ODOT who might know what is going on. She put me on hold for 5 minutes and then again said that their ODOT office knew nothing.
I called Sheriff Minks. He e-mailed me the paper that he had been faxed that morning concerning the seismic testing. I googled the name of the company logo. Nothing. The address listed was a P.O. Box in Harpers Ferry, Ohio, with a hotmail e-mail address. I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. There were six phone numbers listed below the text. The text stated that "the noise form the VibroSeis trucks should not be greater than noise form other large trucks passing on the roadway." Lie number one. I started calling the five numbers listed. What I was able to discern from these phone calls is that these people were "not responsible" as they were only doing their job for their "client" company, Seismic Exchange, which sells maps of the underground geology to oil and gas drillers. Nicholson Land Services is a permitting company ostensibly hired by Seismic Exchange. (It was spelled Nickolson Land Services on the fax to the sheriff's office, but I was later told by one of the people who work at this company that the correct spelling is Nicholson Land Services). I spoke to Bill Denney (724-710-2079), who told me that they pay for all damages they cause. He offered to pay for my coffee cup. I told him the coffee cup wasn't the problem. The problem was that he had caused significant vibrational damage to the houses in Marietta, to the roadway and to the underground utilities. He said that no one had ever been able to prove that. Next up was Jake Martin (903-258-0307), who referred me to his father, Mike Martin (903-530-8009), whom he said was the project leader. It was the same story. He wanted to pay for my coffee cup and be done with it. All of these men were located in other places, no doubt convincing other unsuspecting city, county and state engineers to sign their permits by lying about what they would be doing. Based on their heavy Texan accents, I quickly came to the conclusion that none of them reside in Martins Ferry, Ohio.
These employees of Nicholson Land Services are the people who told the original lies (and omissions) to the city engineer, Joe Tucker, about the magnitude of the vibrations and sound. When I talked to the county engineer, Bob Badger, he said he told them that according to what they described to him, they didn't even need a permit since they weren't going to be digging into the ground and there was no mention of heavy vibration. And contrary to what the local ODOT office told me, the name of Sara Peppers was the signature that was displayed on the permit for the state roads in our area. I went online to our regional (District 10) office on Muskingum Drive, and there in the phone listings was her name. I called her directly, and this was the first time I managed to ascertain that the local office did indeed have previous knowledge of this coming seismic event. Peppers told me that the decision was made higher up in the organization. When I tried to find out who made the decision, she said it was made by a committee of people. I again had the distinct feeling that ODOT did not want to share information.
This morning, Wednesday, June 11, my husband led me into the dining room. There on the floor was a gift from my daughter Heather, a framed photo of an orchid that she had given me for my birthday, smashed and broken. Who knows what other damages lie in wait to be discovered? Will it be the chimney that falls on some unsuspecting person? That crack in a basement foundation? Aging cast iron sewer pipes that let go months from now? Major failure of our underground utilities which we struggle to keep patched already? All I know right now is that those trucks should never have passed through Marietta. And that the men responsible for their doing so are lying, unscrupulous, uncaring men. I base that assessment on spending the rest of Monday (my precious day off) speaking to them on the telephone. Yesterday's paper quotes Marietta College Professor Bob Chase as saying, "It may be a bit disconcerting, but this should be good news for the local community." In my definition of "good," money isn't at the top of the list. It seems to me that the many are being asked to sacrifice quality of life for the few that will be enriched. Don't forget that I am from West Virginia, where the oil and gas industry has reaping profit and taking it out of state for over 100 years. What about those who are forced into signing leases just because their neighbors are doing it? What about those relationships? What about the fear that people feel, wondering what is going to happen to their land? What about the huge ugliness of the wells, the inevitable destruction of the land, the horrible possibility that the water table will be poisoned? Shouldn't we take these situations into consideration before we label something "good" for our community? This is my first taste of the fracking to come, and I can say that personally, it was very very bad.
Barbara Stewart lives in Marietta.