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  • Writer's pictureEnvironmental Health Project

Personal Narrative: Gillian Graber

In 2013, Gillian Graber and her husband were on a mission to find the perfect community to raise their family. She wanted to raise her children in an area that was safe and reflected her family’s values. She found that in Trafford, in Westmoreland County.

Six months after they moved into their new home, unconventional oil and gas development (UOGD) moved into Trafford and the surrounding municipalities. The quality of her family’s life quickly became a nightmare when she found out a well-pad was proposed 2,500 feet from their property. The drawing that is pictured was completed by Aidan and Lilly, Gillian’s children, who have seen how their community has changed over the years.

Gillian decided she couldn’t sit back as the industry encroached on her property and community. As a mother, she knew she needed to protect her children along with all the other children in the surrounding municipalities of Penn and Trafford. To do this, she gave up her small business and founded Protect PT in 2014. To prepare for this new role in her life, Gillian spent countless hours learning about fracking and the industry taking over her community. This sign, which hangs in Protect PT’s office, describes her feelings and relentless work on this issue.

Penn Township updated their zoning ordinance in 2016 to allow for fracking in 60% of the county. Eleven well-pad sites have been proposed across the township. So far, the Quest well-pad is the only one that has been developed. This map of Penn Township shows the 1-mile radius around the wells through which evacuation routes must run. The map also notes the schools, daycares, and recreational facilities that are surrounded by proposed well pads. Level Green Elementary, the school that serves Gillian’s neighborhood, is surrounded by 4 proposed well-pads. If the proposed wells are developed, the children will be exposed 24/7, from their home life through school hours.

Protect PT became Gillian’s life passion and for years, Gillian and a group of volunteers worked together to advocate for Penn-Trafford. As the work was never-ending and continued to pile up, in September 2017, she added Ann LeCuyer to her team as the Outreach Coordinator. Ann, who moved to Penn Trafford a year and a half ago, was unaware of the industry’s presence only a mile from her property. Gillian and Ann now tackle the obstacles together, in hopes of bettering their community.

The narrow winding roads in Penn-Trafford were built with the intention of being used only by local traffic, not by industry. These roads cannot safely support the high volume of industrial traffic that passes through on a daily, continuous basis. Gillian says the traffic is unbearable when industry is doing seismic testing to find the most ideal places to frack for gas. Seismic testing uses air guns that discharge compacted air, causing the ground to shake, as well as loud unexpected booms, disturbing residents.

Gillian has found low-cost ways to help protect residents from airborne particulate matter, tiny particles found in the air we breathe that can be harmful, generated by the industry’s traffic and site preparation. One of these low-cost ways is a high-efficiency particulate arrestance (HEPA) filter which they use in their office. To make the simple filter shown above, you only need 3 items; a box fan and 2 disposable furnace filters. Protect PT has made and given away 6 of these air filters to community members to help decrease the amount of particulate matter they are exposed to in their homes from gas development.

Protect PT now offers noise quality monitors to community members to provide them with data to document, address, or mitigate excessive noise levels. The noise monitor sits inside a birdhouse which hangs by a Shepherd’s hook in a resident’s yard. These birdhouses allow residents to monitor before fracking begins, providing them with baseline levels, which when compared with readings during drilling, can show proof of extreme noise levels.

Though there is divisiveness within their neighborhoods over UOGD, there are a lot of people who identify with Protect PT’s concerns. They join Gillian and Ann in their fight against the industry. Gillian’s concerns continue to grow as a well-pad is proposed to be built on the local water reservoir, Beaver Dam.

This pipeline located near the Poseidon well-pad has been constructed, but it is not currently operating. Protect PT is also battling against the Mariner East II, a 306-mile pipeline which extends 36-miles into Westmoreland County. It will traverse Sewickley, Hempfield, Penn, Salem, which had a pipeline explosion in 2016, Loyalhanna, and Derry Townships. This pipeline was shut down temporarily in February 2018 for environmental violations, but is expected to resume in June 2018.

This photo is of the Quest well-pad in 2015, when the conveyer belt was reported to be malfunctioning. It sprayed sand for up to two miles from the site, according to Gillian. In November 2016, a spill which included methyl mercaptan, an odorant added to methane to indicate possible natural gas leaks occurred, led residents closest to the Quest well-pad to become ill with nausea and headaches. In addition to those residents, two schools were evacuated in Franklin Regional School District. In total, there were 59 individuals transported to the hospital. The gas company’s first attempt to clean up the accident was unsuccessful, which led to the smell permeating the community for two days.

Gillian acknowledges that there are individuals who think that the industry’s infiltration of their community is a “done deal” but she believes they can be stopped. After 4 years of Protect PT’s work, the process of expanding the industry remains on hold. Ann explains that people should understand that this is an industrial process. Because of various permit filings and reviews, the community can see them coming, which allows groups like Protect PT to insert themselves into the discussion, deterring UOGD expansion before it begins.


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