Shalefield Stories: Personal and collected testimonies – Part IV
By Peggy Mackenzie
Judy Armstrong Stiles – Sugar Run, Bradford County, PA
Exposure: Numerous wells within five miles of home
Harm: Water contamination: lead, methane, propane, ethan, ethene,
barium, magnesium, strontium, arsenic, radon, radium 226,
radium 228, uranium
Air Contamination: methane, radium 226, radium 228 uranium
Human Health Impact: rashes on hands and feet, stomach
aches, dizzy spells, intestinal cancer, daily seizures, lead,
arsenic, and barium poisoning
Industry Dishonesty/Disregard: DEP and Chesapeake did not
acknowledge well contamination or methane leaks in yard
Loss of Property: 85% loss of value from $75,000 to $10,000
Before my family’s nightmare started, I lived a peaceful life in Bradford County, Pennsylvania. Our house nestled on a mountain and overlooked the Susquehanna River. There was little traffic in Sugar Run, but plenty of wildlife. It was quiet and clean. My husband, Carl, and I planned on spending our lives in this beautiful Garden of Eden.
However, we were not the only ones interested in Bradford County. Chesapeake Energy moved into Bradford in 2009 seeking natural gas. With them, they brought promises of clean energy, fair leases on land, little environmental impact, and more jobs. A Chesapeake Energy representative knocked on our door in January 2010. Since Carl and I were in between drilled land, we signed the lease.
In February 2010, Carl and I started breaking out in terrible rashes on our hands and feet. Our skin would actually peel. Our tap water now had an odor to it and was yellow. The rashes came and went, as did the water problems, so we shrugged it off.
Then, we started getting stomach aches and had trouble keeping food down. We grew dizzy and tired, and started to forget simple things. Our joints started aching. We saw doctors who tried to figure out what was wrong with us. Our symptoms mirrored so many other diseases and disorders. The doctors could not figure out what the problem was, and our health kept deteriorating.
In April, a large hole opened in our yard. It emitted a terrible smell, and it leaked a foamy fluid.
My daughter, Angelina, moved in with us in June 2010. What should have been a happy time turned sour, because within a month, she, too, started getting sick.
We could not ignore the signs any longer. We consulted an independent water tester from Scranton. We paid them $1,200 to come and test our water.
In September, 2010, news came out that the Susquehanna River contained methane. Shortly after, we received our water tests. We called the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Also, we called Chesapeake. They arrived the same day. They made a visual determination that our water contained methane. We showed them the four-page report from the independent test. Our water contained dangerous levels of lead, methane, propane, ethane, ethene, barium, magnesium, strontium, and arsenic. Chesapeake sent us a five-gallon water cooler; the level of methane in our well did not merit a water buffalo.
However, we felt that we finally had proof that our health problems were the result of some sort of contamination. I demanded blood tests from my doctor. He found barium and arsenic in my blood. Carl had to pay out of pocket because he did not have health insurance. The test cost $6,000. Since Chesakeake does not have to reveal the chemicals that they use, our doctors could not treat us for fear of causing a reaction with other unknown chemicals or minerals.
After seeing a realtor who could not sell our house without us “cleaning it up,” Carl, Angelina, and I left our beautiful home and land to live with relatives. We were living off of Chesapeake’s check while their drilling and denial of their accountability were slowly killing us. Meanwhile, our radon tests came back and we also had radon in the air, and trace amounts of radium 226, radium 228, and uranium in our water.
In February 2011, Carl developed intestinal cancer and had his intestines removed. My daughter, five months pregnant, suffering from seizures, had lead poisoning. We had been out of the house five months and she was one point below toxic. I would like to say that after moving out, our health improved, but it did not. Although the chemical and mineral counts have gone down in my blood, my body is still paying for those high doses. My daughter suffers from daily seizures. She cannot work or drive. My husband, Carl, deteriorated day by day. Unable to handle the loss of memory and speech, as well as the debilitating daily headaches, he took his own life. I don’t blame him. He was in too much pain, and his doctors could not help him.
I am the family of Judy Annstrong Stiles. I lost my home, my health, and my husband. I want hydraulic tracking stopped. We are not expendable for natural gas.
Shalefield Stories is a compilation of first-hand testimonies and collected stories from people who have been harmed by dangerous drilling in the oil and gas Shalefields across the country. No one should be without safe potable water and clean air especially in this country. For more information, go to the Shalefield Stories Campaign found on the Thomas Merton Center webpage at http:// thomasmertoncenter.org.