Personal Narrative: Angel & Wayne Smith
In 1997, Angel and Wayne moved into what she described as their “perfect" home, situated on 106 acres with fresh spring water and wildlife in every direction. This picturesque space was everything they could have envisioned for themselves, their children, and their grandchildren in the years to come.
At the beginning of their journey, they spent the majority of their time outside enjoying their farm and their animals, which included cows, goats, chickens, cats, and horses.
About ten years later, in 2007, their dream began to fall apart as unconventional oil and gas development began to permeate Bedford County. Their home currently sits above an underground storage container and is surrounded by pipelines, processing plants, gas wells, and compressor stations, which range about a half mile to 4-miles away.
They haven’t been able to use their spring water since 2007 due to changes such as pink colored foam and oily substances. They utilized Speck and CATTfish monitors which helped alert the Smith’s of their exposure. They’ve had to install a $10,000.00 water filtration system in hopes of decreasing their contact to potential toxins.
Their safe haven has been destroyed, and their peaceful and rural community now experiences an abundance of noise, excess traffic, foul odors in the air, and contaminated water. In addition, some of the natural features around their property, including their blueberry patch and trees, are dying. In one area of her property the wildlife used to thrive. Angel now calls this the “dead zone”. There are no birds, animals or animal tracks, “nothing."
Since development began, they’ve seen their farm animals’ health deteriorate at an alarming rate. They have lost a horse, goats, cows, calves, chickens, cats, and their family dog. Angel’s current 2 dogs have seizures frequently. All of the animals are displaying symptoms of being poisoned; the final prognosis for most of the deaths was liver disease. Angel and Wayne have both been diagnosed with liver disease, as well.
The Department of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency have been to their home to test their soil and water. However, the results have either come back inconclusive or have been “contaminated in the lab,” and they have been told “not to worry about it." Despite the lack of help from state and federal agencies, Angel continues to be an advocate for her family and her community.
Angel’s neighbors are also experiencing similar effects. In a neighbor’s yard, the pine trees facing a compressor station now have brown needles, or fail to grow. Another neighbor isn't able to hang pictures and decorations on the wall due to vibrations from development that send them crashing to the ground. Another neighbor has continuous chemical smells inside her home. Others deal with discolored water, just like Angel and Wayne. These disruptions have become the community’s new normal.
In a recent interview, Angel said she feels like she is living in “hell” since they can no longer enjoy the simplicity of a normal, rural life. She now wakes up every morning with feelings of dread; going outside to take care of her animals and farm has now become a gloomy experience. She’s constantly wondering when she goes outside, which animal will be sick, or even dead, today.
While staring at a pipeline across from her property, Angel stated that she wanted others to know about what’s going on in her community. She continued by saying, “It’s everyone’s problem and we need to stand together.” She pleads for existing regulations to be tightened, since the current ones are “far too lax."
Angel and Wayne first set out to leave behind a legacy for their grandchildren. She wanted to be able to leave something behind that would help bring them success in their own lives. Now, she feels as if she is “living in the game of survivor, and all you can do is try to survive.”