Washington County, Pennsylvania
Dale is a 23-year resident of West Pike Run Township who, along with his family and community, is experiencing the health impacts caused by air pollution from the oil and gas industry. Dale’s 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 people living in these rural areas with gas development should have a say-so,” asserts Dale Tiberie, a 23-year resident of a small rural community, West Pike Run Township. That right to have a say pertains to the heavy development of gas around them, as well as the emissions they are breathing. With his back door less than 500 feet from a fracked well named Mad Dog 2020, that’s one of Dale’s biggest concerns.
We all need clean air to breathe, but Dale has extra reason for concern. A retired coal miner, Dale’s body bears the burden of that career. He undergoes ongoing evaluations for black lung, the disease of the mines. He doesn’t reflect on the irony–not in our conversations, at least–of the fact that he survived one tremendously hazardous profession, only to retire in the midst of another industry.
In March 2018, Earthworks responded to a request from the Tiberie family to visit the Mad Dog 2020 well pad. Earthworks’ certified thermographer documented emissions of concern, seen in this still image as a black plume of gas (on next page). Both Earthworks and Dale have submitted formal complaints to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP).
Dale and his wife raised their son in their home in Washington County, Pennsylvania. This predominantly rural county features countless working farms, dense woodlands, and quality trout streams, which Dale, an avid angler, knows well. Yet, within the decade or so since unconventional gas industry took hold in Pennsylvania, Washington County has become the most heavily fracked county in the state, with over 1,600 active unconventional wells as of May 2018. According to estimates by the Environmental Defense Fund, Washington County also has the highest levels of VOC emissions, precursors to ground-level ozone, from oil and gas development. Ozone levels in this county are barely within attainment of the EPA’s 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
The Mad Dog 2020 pad is by no means the only contributor to ground-level ozone in Dale’s community. Earthworks has consistently documented significant emissions at two compressor stations just a few miles from Dale’s home. In fact, a PA DEP inspector recently shared the fact that his agency was responding to a complaint from that part of the township about a persistent “haze” the residents have observed.
Dale thinks a lot about the possibility of “something going wrong” at the pad – well pad fires, spills, and other accidents have happened in the county. But right behind this worry is the unknown of what he and his wife get exposed to on a daily basis by living just downhill from a well pad and in a community replete with wells and compressors. For months, the Mad Dog well pad has emitted gassy odors – at one point so strong it made him nauseated. And yet, despite communicating his concerns to the operator – and the new equipment they eventually installed in response – the odors continue and no one has told him exactly what’s in his air. “That’s the fear I have: Am I breathing good air or not?”
When you live in a township with 27 fracked gas wells, numerous compressors and other facilities, and occupied by a gas company poised to break ground on at least two new “super pads,” you live with a lot of unknowns. But Dale knows what his symptoms are. His respiratory ailments seem incessant. The cold he had this winter was the worst he had experienced in a very long time. “I seem to have more respiratory tract problems than I’ve had in the past – even worse than when working in the coal mine.” As we talk, his sniffles become a part of the conversation.
Dale makes sure his voice is heard, as a constant presence at township meetings and by contacting both regulators and the gas company about the ongoing problems at the well pad closest to him. Dale wants transparency about what’s happening in West Pike Run Township. Not just for himself and his family’s well-being, but in order to educate others. He wants the public and decision-makers to fully understand what communities like his are living with, and what the consequences are shaping up to be.