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  • Writer's pictureEnvironmental Health Project

Personal Narrative: Tommy

In 2013, unconventional oil and gas development came to Tommy’s neighborhood, a rural community on the outskirts of Wheeling, West Virginia. His quiet neighborhood turned into what he now calls an “industrial park.” Tommy is currently surrounded by 8 well pads and several pipelines, all within 0.6 to 2-miles from his home.

In April 2013, a pipeline on a neighbor’s property malfunctioned when its couplers came apart. This caused hundreds of thousands of gallons of water to be spewed onto Tommy’s property and into a stream next to his yard. Notice in the photo, the clear stream converging into the brown overflow from the pipeline malfunction.

Although emergency teams from the industry arrived at the scene quickly, Tommy believes their methods to protect his land and the environment were ineffective. After the spill, Tommy captured this photo of ducks floating through the brown, potentially contaminated water. This is an example of how wildlife and their habitats can also be impacted by the industry.

In order to deal with this spill, bales of hay were put down in the water in hopes that it would absorb the fluid that had leaked from the pipe. Despite its strange appearance, Tommy was told it was “just water,” and not to worry about it. When he requested more extensive measures to clean up the spill, he was told it would be “too cumbersome” to deal with.

Tommy, a 25-year resident of Wheeling, feels increasingly detached from his neighborhood as the industry continues to encroach on his community.

Tommy is experiencing a declining quality of life in this neighborhood as his neighbors are putting their properties up for sale. The backyard of an abandoned home now has a shallow pipeline. The increasing industrialization in this community contributes heavily to many residents’ decision to leave. The population decline resulted in a loss of a congressional seat for the area after the last census count.

Tommy would like individuals who are not experiencing this type of industrialization to know that the royalties promised are not worth the damage it causes. Tommy recognizes that the environmental hazards and possible health effects they are having on residents have resulted from the industry’s introduction of “faulty technology and bad science.” He doesn’t understand why technology that has been used for 70 years is not safe yet. The continual hum from the well pads that he hears both in and out of his home has caused him to lose sleep and feel tense and anxious.

A short distance (63-feet) from his front porch, Tommy watches as the trucks drive by, often through his yard since they are too large to fit on West Virginia’s narrow and twisting back roads. This has led him to participate in Speck monitoring which indicated increased particulate matter inside and outside his home during development.

The roads have deteriorated immensely with the increase in oversized truck traffic. In addition, there have been accidents from industry worker’s haphazard driving.

Wherever the industry goes around Wheeling, destruction seems to follow. From cutting down trees to making way for new pipelines to trucks leaving behind clouds of dust and pollution, there is seemingly no end in sight.

Farmland in Ohio County, WV is being overtaken by pipelines and condensate tanks. The picture on the left has a pipeline and an impoundment pond within a few hundred yards of one another. The picture on the right is another location with condensate tanks in close proximity to a farm.

Tommy shares a map of his home, surrounded by 8 active well pads. A one-mile radius of any of these wells might be considered a potential hazard zone in the case of an explosion or major spill. Residents within that circle would likely need to evacuate. Tommy’s home is thus in a potential hazard zone, coming from multiple sources.

Tommy’s parents live 1-mile from this fracking site. Shortly after it was drilled, his mother and father both became ill with heart and lung problems. His father has been in and out of the hospital, most recently for the past 16 months. Tommy has many questions that are left unanswered, wondering if oil and gas development is the reason for his family’s declining health. Medical professionals have not yet definitively linked them, but he doesn’t think the timing is coincidental.

Tommy no longer thinks the county health board and some medical professionals in Ohio County can be trusted. He questions whether there are misplaced priorities or a conflict of interest with many individuals involved. The Board is regulating the air quality from smokers in public areas, such as the local casinos, but it is not regulating or monitoring the air emissions from gas development affecting his neighborhood. Tommy believes that someone must be profiting from the destruction taking place. Otherwise they would be worried about the negative effects from fracking. Tommy is willing to tell his story broadly because he wants individuals from the health board to get involved and help their residents.


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