Dimock – One name, one place emblematic of the impact of natural gas extraction on people’s homes and lives. Since the families in Dimock lost their water supplies to Cabot’s shoddy drilling practices, there have been several more instances where bad well casings have freed up methane that found its way into family drinking water wells. As a first response to lost water, drillers typically deliver a large plastic container called a water buffalo to replace the lost water supply. Each incident garners the attention of the press and elicits outrage from anti-drilling activists.
But the destruction of property and water supplies that has been ongoing since 1994 from longwall coal mining receives scant media attention. That year the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed Act 54 which allows coal mining companies to use longwall mining, a technology that leaves no support beneath the land being undermined. The land above longwall mines drops damaging homes, roads, utilities, water wells and streams. Coal companies are required to replace water supplies and fix damaged structures, but years can pass before the coal companies provide adequate repairs or fully replace lost water supplies. Coal companies have eight longwall mines in Washington and Green counties, and water buffaloes are a common feature of the coal country landscape.
Act 54 requires the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to report on the impacts of longwall mining and the success of coal company repairs to property and water every five years. The latest report, released in 2011, covers 2003 to 2008. The Citizens Advisory Council (CAC) to DEP is one organization that has never forgotten the victims of longwall mining, and since the release of the report, the council’s members have delved into the details interviewing DEP and coal company staff and affected property owners and others. In its comments on the report, delivered to DEP earlier this month, the CAC raises serious issues about the length of time it takes for coal companies to make complete repairs to damaged homes and businesses, to replace water supplies and to repair damaged streams.
An analysis of the DEP report done by Schmid and Company, an ecological consulting company, notes that as longwall mining has expanded and now removes wider panels of coal, more damage has resulted. They also point out that some of the damage reported on in the 1997 to 2002 report was not resolved by 2008 – 23 percent of damage to water supplies had not been resolved. About two-thirds of damage to streams that occurred during the 2003 to 2008 period were not repaired. Worse, when longwall mining damaged homes or other structures, coal companies fully repaired or fully compensated only 29 percent of the property owners.
Coal mining continues in full force in Greene and Washington counties. As the impacts of natural gas drilling on communities and natural resources take center stage, families above the longwalls continue their quiet, lonely struggle with our dirtiest, intentionally destructive source of energy. Fortunately, the CAC remembers them.