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The Smith* Family
Noble County, Ohio

The Smith family left their home in the Ohio countryside because of the health impacts they were experiencing caused by air pollution from the oil and gas industry. Theirs is just one story that reveals pollution from the booming industry is causing an increase in asthma attacks and increased risks of cancer and respiratory diseases not only in urban areas but in America’s rural countryside as well.

The air is what drove them away. Or rather, what the gas industry was doing to their air – along with their land, water, and wellbeing.

The Smith* family called to chat from their cabin in the Smoky Mountains. After a few days spent away from their farmstead in Noble County, Ohio, and breathing air unburdened by gas development, their sinuses have cleared. They can breathe more easily. If a forced choice can still be called a choice, then they’ve “decided” to sell their idyllic farm in the Ohio countryside and make their mountainous vacation spot their new home.

Tammy Smith enumerates the thirty-odd well pads – each with multiple individual wellheads – and compressor stations that surround their formerly peaceful and productive farm back in Noble County. She passionately recounts her and husband Tom’s stolid resistance to leasing to their land, but how ultimately they were pressured into signing. In the end, the gas company Antero built a pad less than a half mile from their home. The oil and gas production in Noble County has grown more than 50 times in the past 10 years. Earthworks began visiting Noble County – with FLIR camera in tow – in 2015, and have documented significant emissions on several visits. In March 2018, the Smiths filed a formal complaint with the Ohio EPA on the basis of that emissions footage.

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The Crum Compressor is just one of many gas facilities near the Smith family’s Noble County home. Earthworks documented emissions at this facility in 2015 and again in March 2018.

According to Tammy, the Ohio EPA recently conducted an “air grab” sampling near their home. The results showed levels of harmful VOCs like benzene and toluene high enough to make their air quality “worse than downtown Chicago.” EPA data shows that as a whole Noble County, despite its agrarian nature exemplified by the Smith’s farm, ozone pollution is so high that it barely meets federal standards (which is far from clean air).

Tammy and Tom’s symptoms range from skin rashes to respiratory ailments. Tom has perpetually blocked sinuses that just won’t abate until they put distance between them and Noble county. And they aren’t the only ones experiencing symptoms. One of the most disturbing parts of their story happened over Christmas, when their six-year-old grandson, who lives next to the farm, awoke crying and gasping for air. Over and over, he choked out the terrifying words “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,” she recounts. A registered nurse, Tammy has been able to help administer breathing treatments for her young grandson, who continues to experience breathing difficulties.

For their family and neighbors still there, Tammy and Tom are calling for meaningful enforcement of the standards that Ohio has already set for gas facilities. They have lived next to well pads and compressors since early in Ohio’s shale gas boom. Over years of careful observation and vigilant reporting of complaints, the response of health and environmental regulators strikes them as lackluster, if not negligent. They’re willing to share their story, they explain, because they want others to know the truth. Even as they pack up and prepare to sell off their beautiful farm and move far from their grandson, they haven’t given up on Noble county.

Left image shows a normal view of a Noble County oil and gas facility. Right image is an infrared view of the same facility,
showing normally invisible pollution.

*Pseudonym used at request of the family to avoid harassment by the oil and gas industry and its operatives paid to divide communities.

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