Community Impact

Herd About It?
by Ana Grarian

Yesterday afternoon I made my comments to the NYS DEC draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) for potential natural gas drilling activities in the Marcellus Shale formation.When you go to the website you are able to highlight the type of concerns you have, for instance, air quality or water quality. I chose to comment on community impacts.

I had intended to speak about pollution concerns, but just seeing the choice “community impacts”, made me realize there were some issues I had not considered.

My town has fewer than 2000 people. That’s men, women and children. Yes – some farmers have more cows in a single barn – than there are people in the whole town. My town is quite lucky. We still have a small grocery, a hardware, a gas station/convenience store, a seasonal restaurant, and of course the requisite bar. We do not have a mayor or a police force (not even Andy and his deputy). The nearest doctor’s office is 10 miles, the nearest hospitals are 30 miles away. Our fire and ambulance crews are all volunteer. These emergency services have had more trouble recruiting volunteers since most people are working off the farm and therefore out of the community.

What will it do to us if drilling at the scale the gas companies are indicating happens in our community? Even IF everything proceeds smoothly with good intentions and practices there will be significant impacts. An increase in traffic, especially the heavy truck traffic that will be needed to service these sites will increase the number of vehicular accidents putting a strain on volunteer emergency medical services. Given that people act as people do, increased traffic will mean a need for more law enforcement in order to control traffic violations. An increase of people in and out of our businesses will increase the likelihood of altercations which again will create a need for law enforcement. Will our children and ourselves still be safe walking and riding our bikes on narrow country roads with no sidewalks?

Housing becomes an issue. Transient workers need housing and often can pay more than local residents, driving up housing costs. Transient workforces tend not to have the same respect for the towns they work in as do permanent residents. This applies to both the physical landscape and the population. It’s easier to behave badly where nobody knows your name. And in a small town where our personal safety relies on everyone knowing each other, what will it mean to have a town full of strangers?

I am reading an article now on how small towns in Western US were impacted during the energy booms of the 1960’s and 70’s. There is a lot to consider. One difficulty is that the need for more services, regulations etc., comes before they are able to be provided, and small town government is usually not prepared to deal proactively with the types of complex issues that occur. It’s always a game of catch-up. The towns change faster than the residents can deal with it both during the boom, and then the collapse. The boom often has grandiose expectations that don’t pan out, and the bust is often not considered at all.

Boom, boom, boom, boom – the pounding of drill rigs begins to sound like a death knell.