Personal Narrative: Lyndia & Anthony Ervolina
Lyndia and Anthony Ervolina have lived in their Doddridge County, WV, home for over 30 years. Lyndia says they fell in love with this property because it was beautiful and remote. About 25 years ago, they planted bamboo to provide privacy from the road that runs along their property.
As unconventional oil and gas development moved into their small town of West Union, about 12 years ago, their lives changed drastically. According to Lyndia, since then the traffic has run through their hollow 24/7. Now their bamboo is the only thing that separates them from the continuous flow of shale gas truck traffic. They now hope that the bamboo will help combat the rise in particulate matter that they witnessed while using a Speck air monitor. This is an example of what is happening in one hollow that is repeated in many homes across the tiny rural county.
Right across the road from the Ervolina’s home and bamboo patch, there is a pipeline emergency shut off valve along with a 5,000-gallon gas regulator tank. The tank is used to blow off waste in the gas line and release high pressure build up within the tank. The company also cited a pipeline right near the local creek, which led to a lot of excavation in the area. This used to be one of the most popular locations for families to fish. The creek was filled with small mouth bass, easily up to a foot long, and it had an abundance of rare and protected species like fresh water clams. These protected species are rarely seen now and the few small mouth bass that still exist are covered with lesions, bumps and open sores.
This photo shows a heavy foam in the Ervolina’s creek, that appeared after an industry-related spill. Before the spill, they had an abundance of minnows, so many you could scoop up full buckets. Their neighbors would often stop by the house to see if they could catch some minnows for fishing. They also had crayfish, water skippers, dragonflies, water snakes and many more species. After multiple spills, the wildlife in the creek are rarely seen or gone completely. In addition to these changes in the creek, their property has as well. Over the past few years, Lyndia has watched the plants that once thrived in her organic garden, cease to flourish. She has also found that her flowers have become more susceptible to disease and the trees that line their property have a strange hue of green, with unhealthy bark. On multiple occasions, Lyndia has caught industry workers dumping fracking-related fluids in her driveway, as well as on the road directly outside of her home.
The Ervolina’s and other community members have suffered health effects that they believe are related to the drilling activity. Lyndia has experienced an increase in stress, anxiety, depression, and a rash that makes her skin feel like it is on fire. When their grandson lived with them, he began to experience a wide array of health problems. He had rashes, breathing trouble, nosebleeds, and swelling and redness on his face, especially around his eyes. He often complained of headaches and stomachaches, too.
One day, a drill cutting truck broke down in their driveway spilling water out where their grandson would usually stand to wait for the school bus. After this incident, he became very ill with lung congestion. His pediatrician diagnosed his condition as asthma – which he had not suffered before this event. At that point, the Ervolina’s decided to send him back to live with his family in Washington State. Since he left West Virginia 7 years ago, he has never suffered these symptoms again.
Anthony described their backyard as “once full of every kind of bird, but now quiet and still in the summer.” Their bamboo used to shelter thousands of birds, especially during migration. They consumed as much as 150 pounds of birdseed a week, spread by the Ervolina’s. In the past 3 years, there have been heavy fracking, gas well leaks, and pipeline blow offs around their property. In addition, a “one of a kind in the world, experimental” frack fluid processing plant and class 1 toxic waste dump site, with no restrictions, has been built 5 miles from their home. With the increase of industrialization, the birds no longer take shelter in their bamboo.
Anthony says the “easy simple life has been destroyed through conflict of interest, crimes, and hard drugs” since industry moved into their community. Their home, which they rarely locked for 30 years, now has a deadbolt, chain, and security code in response to the industry workers they have found roaming around in their yard and woods. Workers in large industry vehicles also use their driveways as turnarounds and have dumped fracking fluid by their second driveway next to the garden. In addition, the workers show no respect for their property, littering it with paper, cans, and bottles. The workers, in as many as 12 trucks at a time, sit outside of the Ervolina’s home with their diesel engines idling for hours, polluting the surrounding area with dangerous emissions and fumes. When Lyndia attempts to confront the workers about these issues, they respond with vulgar comments and intimidation to try to keep her inside her home.
The Ervolina’s animals have struggled through this process, too. After a fracking fluid spill infiltrated the creek on their property, the health of their animals declined. After drinking the creek water, the veterinarian found their 3 dogs and 4 cats had abscesses in their mouths, requiring that teeth be pulled. Lyndia also had to have 2 abscessed teeth pulled around the same time. The most devastating consequence for them was the loss of one of their Great Pyrenees, who they believe was poisoned by the contaminants, since he died within a month of the accident.
This is a typical view in the Ervolina’s community. Images like these explain why Anthony describes their home as located in a “frack field.” The photo on the left of MarkWest’s natural gas cryogenic plant was built on one of Doddridge County’s wetlands. The Ervolina’s community attempted to fight this plant’s location, but ultimately lost.
The impact on the wider community is evident as well. The small town of West Union, with only one stoplight coming off the interstate, now has eight deputy sheriffs, two ambulance companies, and two newspapers. As the industry expands, the town has organized larger emergency-response teams for the accidents that are wreaking havoc on their region. A once-free ambulance service that used to assist the elderly now costs hundreds of dollars. Laws are now enforced that only allow private ambulance authorities, staffed by workers paid state-set wages and benefits. The emergency medical technicians (EMTs) must be trained in catastrophic gas accidents which have been occurring at the well pads, pipelines, and road ways. Funding for this type of training comes from severance tax money which is also used to address other industry-induced challenges such as fixing damaged roads. There are only a few thousand residents in Doddridge County, yet the emergency squad’s sirens blare past the Ervolina’s home several times a week. It seems obvious that they are responding to industrial-related accidents and not the needs of the local residents.
The Ervolina’s do their best to advocate for themselves and their community. They have participated in many interviews about the dangers of unconventional oil and gas development hoping to shed light on the real costs of UOGD. They feel that for the community members’ safety, continuous air and water monitoring, and reliable warning systems, especially for emergencies, should be implemented. At a recent public meeting in Richie County, the natural gas industry joined the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security, West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, EPA, and Department of Energy to offer a special training course at the Greenwood Fire Department for local first responders on how to handle a radiation emergency – a reminder that the industry’s behavior essentially leaves residents’ lives in the hands of their local first responders. As a mysterious foam floats through their creek, Lyndia advises “if you are younger than 40 get the hell out if you can. Especially if you have children.”