Open letter to the NY Farm Bureau—Research shows that fracking is shrinking the PA dairy industry. Time to protect NY farming.

Posted on April 1, 2013 by kenjaffe

An Open Letter to New York Farm Bureau,

We now know that gas drilling is shrinking the Pennsylvania dairy industry.  Two recent studies by researchers at Cornell and Penn State independently show these negative impacts.  But last year, in written comments to the NY State DEC, the New York Farm Bureau supported gas drilling in NY State, citing the Bureau’s belief that fracking would expand farming businesses. The research in Pennsylvania shows the opposite to be true. Farm Bureau advocated a policy that we now know will reduce herd size and milk production.

As a Farm Bureau member, I’m asking Farm Bureau’s to reappraise its policy based on this new objective information. The Bureau should adopt a policy against fracking that would actually support farming and farmers.  There are enough forces already working against dairy farmers. We don’t need Farm Bureau advocating positions that will drive people out of the business of farming.

Let’s review what we know, and NY Farm Bureau’s current position.

A study titled Marcellus Shale Drilling’s Impact on the Dairy Industry in Pennsylvania: A Descriptive Report, was published in February 2013 in the peer review journal New Solutions. The authors are researchers at Cornell, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, and Hunter College. See pages 189 to 202 at

The authors compared dairy farms in the PA counties with the most wells drilled (average 620 well) to adjacent counties with under 100 wells (average 38). They measured changes in dairy herd size and milk production between 2007 (when horizontal hydrofracking became active) and 2011. Farm data came from the USDA Ag Census (The National Agricultural Statistics Service). Drilling data came from the PA DEP.

The counties with the most wells were Bradford, Lycoming, Susquehanna, Tioga, and Washington. The adjacent counties with under 100 wells were Beaver, Clinton, Lackawanna, Potter, Somerset, and Sullivan).

During the period of fracking expansion (2007-2011) the most heavily drilled counties experienced a 30% loss of milk cows compared to a 3% loss in counties with fewer than 100 wells. Milk production dropped 23% in the heavily drilled counties and 1% in counties with under 100 wells. (Table 1)

Table 1. Percent Change In Number of Milk Cows, Total Milk Production
and Number of Wells Drilled by County 2007-2011

Counties with most wells drilled
percent change in number of
milk cows
percent change in total milk production (pounds)
wells drilled 2007-2011
























Adjacent counties with fewer than 100 wells drilled
percent change in number of milk cows
percent change in total milk production (pounds)
wells drilled       2007-2011




























from Table 1,  Marcellus Shale Drilling’s Impact on The Dairy Industry in PA, New Solutions, vol 23(1) 189-201, 2013

A second study done at Penn State looked at all counties across Pennsylvania from 2007-2010. The study is online at
The authors, lead by Timothy W. Kelsey, professor of agricultural economics, stated

“Changes in dairy cow numbers also seem to be associated with the level of Marcellus shale drilling activity. Counties with 150 or more Marcellus shale wells on average experienced an 18.7 percent decrease in dairy cows, compared to only a 1.2 percent average decrease in counties with no Marcellus wells. “The NASS and Department of Environmental Protection data suggest that increases in the number of Marcellus shale wells are associated with declines in cow numbers and milk production.”

Here is NY Farm Bureau’s 2012 explanation of the basis for its current position in support of hydrofracking:

“For farms, development of the Marcellus Shale formation means the ability to again invest in farm infrastructure; building new barns, adding cows to allow the next generation to stay on the farm and purchasing a new tractor to replace the 40-year-old model.These on-farm investments will ripple through the local economy and grow community businesses – from the general contractor to the livestock auction or the farm machinery salesman and seed dealer. The importance of revitalizing these communities and local economies cannot be overstated.”

If only this were true. It’s a year later, and we now know it was a false hope. We know that gas drilling shrinks dairy farms, and lowers milk production. And this shrinkage will “ripple through the local economy” in the opposite direction that the NY Bureau predicted in 2012, causing contraction to businesses beyond the farms.

There are many farming issues missed in the NY Bureau’s letter to the DEC, including fracking impact in farm family health, animal health, crop yields, and consumer acceptance of NY farm products.  But the economics of farming was at the heart of the Bureau’s position.

A very wise man said, “When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?”

Many New York farmers, including me, are now asking NY Farm Bureau to look at this new information and protect NY farmers against fracking. Specifically NY Farm Bureau should

1) Withdraw the 2012 comments to the DEC in support of fracking, now that the basis        for that support is shown to be in error.
2) Support a ban on fracking in NY State and further study of economic impact drilling      on farm businesses.


Ken Jaffe
Slope Farms
Meredith, NY


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13 Responses to Open letter to the NY Farm Bureau—Research shows that fracking is shrinking the PA dairy industry. Time to protect NY farming.

  1. Eugene Marner says:

    Well said. Furthermore, I have read that hundreds of Bradford County landowners now have Mechanic’s Liens on their properties. Drilling companies went out of business or simply failed to pay local contractors and suppliers. The leases of the deadbeat drilling companies were the only assets available so the creditors were legally able to place liens on the properties that had been leased. Now landowners who thought they were going to become rich from gas may be deprived of the value of their properties. If they sell, the lien holders will be first in line to collect. Not a good deal for Pennsylvania landowners including many farmers.

    • Cindy McGahee says:

      That is terrible. Having been hit with two mechanic’s liens (for a total of $20,000) after the construction of our house I can attest to the helpless feeling paying for someone else’s debt.

      Fantastic letter Ken.

  2. Krys Cail says:

    Thanks for issuing this challenge to Farm Bureau. Now, we will see whether they are, in fact, what they claim to be (a farm organization set up to benefit farmers and farming), or just a thinly-veiled club for right-wing business owners to use to lobby state government.

    • kenjaffe says:

      Thanks Krys. I do hope there is a substantive response to the new knowledge that fracking harms the farming industry.

      I’ve sent the letter to Jeff Williams who signed Farm Bureaus doc to NY DEC supporting gas drilling. He referred me back to the county reps. I’ve sent my letter to my Delaware County rep, and to several others.

      I’d encourage people to reach out their county Farm Bureau reps to inform them that FB is advocating a position on fracking that hurts farming.

  3. Brewery Ommegang supports Slope Farms’ position. We have been a member of the NY Farm Bureau and its pro-fracking position confounds us. An organization that exists to further agriculture and farming should not be working instead to industrialize our rural and farm lands. The simple fact is if there were no pie-in-the promises of big gas paydays, the bureau and most farmers would be among the most fervent opponents of fracking. The gas companies are quite good at manipulating the hopes and fears of those who live above the resources they want to extract: they’ve had years of experience and are good at the hollow promise and the ommitted fact.

  4. Karen London says:

    Excellent letter, Ken. Might you also send your letter to the Sullivan County representative of the Farm Bureau? They have a large billboard on Route 17 proclaiming their support of “safe” gas drilling. This might be important information for them to reconsider their position.

  5. Lone Bear says:

    If anyone in NY Sullivan County wants to join in to stop fracking please contact Rep. Cindy Geiger she is also a REAL DAIRY FARMER!!! Her office is in Monticello on North Street I dont have the number but she is in the same building that has the DMV so please call and support her!

  6. Kathleen A. Reynolds says:

    It is a mystery how an agricultural organization could ever have thought fracking would be good for agriculture, even without the factual evidence we now see. Thank goodness for this study. Now just hope that the NYS DEC and the Farm Bureau change their tune.

  7. Martha Goodsell says:

    Good luck with getting the NYFB to change its position. I left the Tioga County Farm Bureau because they were so “brainwashed” by gas industry promoters. The county board was infiltrated and some became official “NYFB Spokesmen” on the issues. I’d rather spend my time promoting and working with the National Farmers Union, who years back, took the position against HVHHF and have values much more in line with family farmers.

    • kenjaffe says:


      No doubt changing Farm Bureau policy on gas drilling will be a tough.

      Mostly I want to get the word out to farmers that we now have evidence that fracking leads to shrinkage of the farming industry. It seemed pretty obvious to many of us, but there wasn’t clear data to support our position. Now there is. Fracking hurts the farming industry.

      The myth of fracking benefiting farmers looms large in industry p.r., and we know it influences the debate. There are farmers and others, inside Farm Bureau and out, who in good faith believed the myth. And some of those will be influenced by new information to re-examine their position. Repeating the myth of fracking helping the farming industry is now repeating a lie.

      And Farm Bureau does have a mission to advance the farming industry. There are many members, perhaps naively, who believe that mission will determine policy. It’s certainly going to require an interesting explanation on the part of FB to continue supporting gas drilling when in the real world fracking shrinks the farming industry.


  8. NY Farm Bureau says:

    NY Farm Bureau’s policy process is completely farmer driven. The grassroots policy process starts at the local level and works its way up to the state delegate body made up of more than 100 farmers representing every commodity and type of farm across across the state who vote on dozens of policy resolutions every year. If members are opposed to any policy, it is well within their right to voice their opinion and work to persuade their fellow farmer members through the democratic process. This is a big reason why people passionate about all aspects of farming should become members of NY Farm Bureau. Below is Jeff Williams’ reply to Ken Jaffe’s concerns.

    “Thanks for your e-mail. As you may know, our policy on issues are developed through a grassroots process completely led by our farmer-members. The opinions referenced in your letter stem from a policy in our policy book, stating “We support drilling for natural gas in New York State,” in addition to another statement in support of natural gas drilling specifically in the Marcellus Shale. These policies are surfaced at the county level (at our county Farm Bureaus) and are finalized at our State Annual Meeting where farmers review, amend and vote on each individual policy.

    If you are committed to changing Farm Bureau policies on natural gas drilling, I highly recommend that you keep in close contact with your county Farm Bureau and attend the county policy development meetings this summer and their annual meeting this fall. Should you have farmer colleagues that hold similar views, I encourage you to have them do the same with their county Farm Bureaus.

    I appreciate your sharing this information and your insight into this issue. However, as staff, we are only charged with implementing our organization’s policies. For New York Farm Bureau to change our beliefs, our farmer-members will need to officially change their minds. I have definitely seen this happen a number of times on other issues.

    Thanks again for your e-mail and for voicing your opinions.”

    Fracking ourselves to death in Pennsylvania

    no frackingNot An Alternative

    More than 70 years ago, a chemical attack was launched against Washington state and Nevada. It poisoned people, animals, everything that grew, breathed air, and drank water. The Marshall Islands were also struck. This formerly pristine Pacific atoll was branded “the most contaminated place in the world.” As their cancers developed, the victims of atomic testing and nuclear weapons development got a name: downwinders. What marked their tragedy was the darkness in which they were kept about what was being done to them. Proof of harm fell to them, not to the U.S. government agencies responsible [PDF].

    Now, a new generation of downwinders is getting sick as an emerging industry pushes the next wonder technology — in this case, high-volume hydraulic fracturing. Whether they live in Texas, Colorado, or Pennsylvania, their symptoms are the same: rashes, nosebleeds, severe headaches, difficulty breathing, joint pain, intestinal illnesses, memory loss, and more. “In my opinion,” says Yuri Gorby of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, “what we see unfolding is a serious health crisis, one that is just beginning.”

    The process of “fracking” starts by drilling a mile or more vertically, then outward laterally into 500-million-year-old shale formations, the remains of oceans that once flowed over parts of North America. Millions of gallons of chemical and sand-laced water are then propelled into the ground at high pressures, fracturing the shale and forcing the methane it contains out. With the release of that gas come thousands of gallons of contaminated water. This “flowback” fluid contains the original fracking chemicals, plus heavy metals and radioactive material that also lay safely buried in the shale.

    The industry that uses this technology calls its product “natural gas,” but there’s nothing natural about upending half a billion years of safe storage of methane and everything that surrounds it. It is, in fact, an act of ecological violence around which alien infrastructures — compressor stations that compact the gas for pipeline transport, ponds of contaminated flowback, flare stacks that burn off gas impurities, diesel trucks in quantity, thousands of miles of pipelines, and more — have metastasized across rural America, pumping carcinogens and toxins into water, air, and soil.

    Sixty percent of Pennsylvania lies over a huge shale sprawl called the Marcellus, and that has been in the fracking industry’s sights since 2008. The corporations that are exploiting the shale come to the state with lavish federal entitlements: exemptions from the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Clean Drinking Water Acts, as well as the Superfund Act, which requires cleanup of hazardous substances. The industry doesn’t have to call its trillions of gallons of annual waste “hazardous.” Instead, it uses euphemisms like “residual waste.” In addition, fracking companies are allowed to keep secret many of the chemicals they use.

    Pennsylvania, in turn, adds its own privileges. A revolving door shuttles former legislators, governors, and officials from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection into gas industry positions. The DEP itself is now the object of a lawsuit that charges the agency with producing deceptive lab reports, and then using them to dismiss homeowners’ complaints that shale gas corporations have contaminated their water, making them sick. The people I interviewed have their own nickname for the DEP: “Don’t Expect Protection.”

    The downwinders

    Randy Moyer is a pleasant-faced, bearded 49-year-old whose drawl reminds you that Portage, his hardscrabble hometown in southwestern Pennsylvania, is part of Appalachia. He worked 18 years — until gasoline prices got too steep — driving his own rigs to haul waste in New York and New Jersey. Then what looked like a great opportunity presented itself: $25 an hour working for a hydraulic-fracturing subcontractor in northeastern Pennsylvania.

    In addition to hauling fracking liquid, water, and waste, Randy also did what’s called, with no irony, “environmental.” He climbed into large vats to squeegee out the remains of fracking fluid. He also cleaned the huge mats laid down around the wells to even the ground out for truck traffic. Those mats get saturated with “drilling mud,” a viscous, chemical-laden fluid that eases the passage of the drills into the shale. What his employer never told him was that the drilling mud, as well as the wastewater from fracking, is not only highly toxic, but radioactive.

    In the wee hours of a very cold day in November 2011, he stood in a huge basin at a well site, washing 1,000 mats with high-pressure hoses, taking breaks every so often to warm his feet in his truck. “I took off my shoes and my feet were as red as a tomato,” he told me. When the air from the heater hit them, he “nearly went through the roof.”

    Once at home, he scrubbed his feet, but the excruciating pain didn’t abate. A “rash” that covered his feet soon spread up to his torso. A year and a half later, the skin inflammation still recurs. His upper lip repeatedly swells. A couple of times his tongue swelled so large that he had press it down with a spoon to be able to breathe. “I’ve been fried for over 13 months with this stuff,” he told me in late January. “I can just imagine what hell is like. It feels like I’m absolutely on fire.”

    Family and friends have taken Moyer to emergency rooms at least four times. He has consulted more than 40 doctors. No one can say what caused the rashes, or his headaches, migraines, chest pain, and irregular heartbeat, or the shooting pains down his back and legs, his blurred vision, vertigo, memory loss, the constant white noise in his ears, and the breathing troubles that require him to stash inhalers throughout his small apartment.

    In an earlier era, workers’ illnesses fell into the realm of “industrial medicine.” But these days, when it comes to the U.S. fracking industry, the canaries aren’t restricted to the coal mines. People like Randy seem to be the harbingers of what happens when a toxic environment is no longer buried miles beneath the earth. The gas fields that evidently poisoned him are located near thriving communities. “For just about every other industry I can imagine,” says Anthony Ingraffea of Cornell University, coauthor of a landmark study [PDF] that established fracking’s colossal greenhouse-gas footprint, “from making paint, building a toaster, building an automobile, those traditional kinds of industry occur in a zoned industrial area, inside of buildings, separated from home and farm, separated from schools.” By contrast, natural gas corporations, he says, “are imposing on us the requirement to locate our homes, hospitals, and schools inside their industrial space.”

    The death and life of Little Rose

    Little Rose was Angel Smith’s favorite horse. When the vet shod her, Angel told me proudly, she obligingly lifted the next hoof as soon as the previous one was done. “Wanna eat, Rosie?” Angel would ask, and Rosie would nod her head. “Are you sure?” Angel would tease, and Rosie would raise one foreleg, clicking her teeth together. In Clearville, just south of Portage, Angel rode Little Rose in parades, carrying the family’s American flag.

    In 2002, a “landman” knocked on the door and asked Angel and her husband Wayne to lease the gas rights of their 115-acre farm to the San Francisco-based energy corporation PG&E (Pacific Gas & Electric.) At first, he was polite, but then he started bullying. “All your neighbors have signed. If you don’t, we’ll just suck the gas from under your land.” Perhaps from weariness and a lack of information (almost no one outside the industry then knew anything about high-volume hydraulic fracturing), they agreed. Drilling began in 2002 on neighbors’ land and in 2005 on the Smith’s.

    On Jan. 30, 2007, Little Rose staggered, fell, and couldn’t get up. Her legs moved spasmodically. When Wayne and Angel dragged her to a sitting position, she’d just collapse again. “I called every vet in the phone book,” says Angel. “They all said, ‘Shoot her.’” The couple couldn’t bear to do it. After two days, a neighbor shot her. “It was our choice,” says Angel, her voice breaking. “She was my best friend.”

    Soon, the Smiths’ cows began showing similar symptoms. Those that didn’t die began aborting or giving birth to dead calves. All the chickens died, too. So did the barn cats. And so did three beloved dogs, none of them old, all previously healthy. A 2012 study [PDF] by Michelle Bamberger and Cornell University pharmacology professor Robert Oswald indicates that, in the gas fields, these are typical symptoms in animals and often serve as early warning signs for their owners’ subsequent illnesses.

    The Smiths asked the DEP to test their water. The agency told them that it was safe to drink, but Angel Smith says that subsequent testing by Pennsylvania State University investigators revealed high levels of arsenic.

    Meanwhile, the couple began suffering from headaches, nosebleeds, fatigue, throat and eye irritation, and shortness of breath. Wayne’s belly began swelling oddly, even though, says Angel, he isn’t heavy. X-rays of his lungs showed scarring and calcium deposits. A blood analysis revealed cirrhosis of the liver. “Get him to stop drinking,” said the doctor who drew Angel aside after the results came in. “Wayne doesn’t drink,” she replied. Neither does Angel, who at 42 now has liver disease.

    By the time the animals began dying, five high-volume wells had been drilled on neighbors’ land. Soon, water started bubbling up under their barn floor and an oily sheen and foam appeared on their pond. In 2008, a compressor station was built half a mile away. These facilities, which compress natural gas for pipeline transport, emit known carcinogens and toxins like benzene and toluene.

    The Smiths say people they know elsewhere in Clearville have had similar health problems, as have their animals. For a while they thought their own animals’ troubles were over, but just this past February several cows aborted. The couple would like to move away, but can’t. No one will buy their land.

    The museum of fracking

    Unlike the Smiths, David and Linda Headley didn’t lease their land. In 2005, when they bought their farm in Smithfield, they opted not to pay for the gas rights under their land. The shallow gas drilling their parents had known seemed part of a bygone era and the expense hardly seemed worth the bother.

    With its hills and valleys, the creek running through their land, and a spring that supplied them with water, the land seemed perfect for hiking, swimming, and raising their son Grant. Adam was born after all the trouble started.

    Just as the couple had completed the purchase, the bulldozers moved in. The previous owner had leased the gas rights without telling them. And so they found themselves, as they would later put it, mere “caretakers” on a corporate estate.

    Today, the Headleys’ property is a kind of museum of fracking. There are five wells, all with attendant tanks that separate liquids from the gas, and a brine tank where flowback is stored. Four of the wells are low-volume vertical ones, which use a fracking technology that predates today’s high-volume method. A couple minutes’ walk from the Headleys’ front door stands a high-volume well. A pipeline was drilled under their creek.

    “Accidents” have been a constant. When the well closest to the house was fracked, their spring, which had abounded in vegetation, crawfish, and insects, went bad. The DEP told the Headleys, as it did the Smiths, that the water was still safe to drink. But, says David, “everything in the spring died and turned white.” Adam had just been born. “No way was I exposing my kids to that.” For two years he hauled water to the house from the homes of family and friends and then he had it connected to a city water line.

    All the brine tanks have leaked toxic waste onto the Headley’s land. Contaminated soil from around the high-volume tank has been alternately stored in dumpsters and in an open pit next to the well. The Headleys begged the DEP to have it removed. David says an agency representative told them the waste would have to be tested for radioactivity first. Eventually, some of it was hauled away; the rest was buried under the Headleys’ land. The test for radioactivity is still pending, though David has his own Geiger counter which has measured high levels at the site of the well.

    An independent environmental organization, Earthworks, included the Headleys among 55 households it surveyed in a recent study [PDF] of health problems near gas facilities. Testing showed high levels of contaminants in the Headleys’ air, including chloromethane, a neurotoxin, and trichloroethene, a known carcinogen.

    Perhaps more telling is the simple fact that everyone in the family is sick. Seventeen-year-old Grant has rashes that, like Randy Moyer’s, periodically appear on different parts of his body. Four-year-old Adam suffers from stomach cramps that make him scream. David says he and Linda have both had “terrible joint pain. It’s weird stuff, your left elbow, your right hip, then you’ll feel good for three days, and it’ll be your back.” At 42, with no previous family history of either arthritis or asthma, Linda has been diagnosed with both. Everyone has had nosebleeds — including the horses.

    Five years into the Marcellus gas rush in this part of Pennsylvania, symptoms like Randy Moyer’s, the Smiths’, and the Headleys’ are increasingly common. Children are experiencing problems the young almost never have, like joint pain and forgetfulness. Animal disorders and deaths are widespread. The Earthworks study suggests that living closer to gas-field infrastructure increases the severity of 25 common symptoms, including skin rashes, difficulty breathing, and nausea.

    Don’t Expect Protection

    DEP whistleblowers have disclosed that the agency purposely restricts its chemical testing so as to reduce evidence of harm to landownersA resident in southwestern Pennsylvania’s Washington County is suing the agency for failing fully to investigate the drilling-related air and water contamination that she says has made her sick. In connection with the lawsuit, Democratic State Rep. Jesse White has demanded that state and federal agencies investigate the DEP for “alleged misconduct and fraud.”

    In the absence of any genuine state protection, independent scientists have been left to fill the gap. But as the industry careens forward, matching symptoms with potential causes is a constant catch-up effort. A 2011 study by Theo Colborn, founder of the Endocrine Disruption Exchange and recipient of the National Council for Science and Environment’s Lifetime Achievement Award, identified 353 industry chemicals that could damage the skin, the brain, the respiratory, gastrointestinal, immune, cardiovascular, and endocrine (hormone production) systems. Twenty-five percent of the chemicals found by the study could cause cancers.

    David Brown is a veteran toxicologist and consultant for an independent environmental health organization, the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project. According to him, there are four routes of exposure to gas-field chemicals: water, air, soil, and food. In other words, virtually everything that surrounds us.

    Exposure to water comes from drinking, but showering and bathing makes possible water exposure through the skin and inhaling water vapor. “Air exposure is even more complicated,” says Brown. The impacts of contaminated air, for example, are greater during heavy activity. “Children running around,” he says, “are more apt to be exposed than older people.” What further complicates the emerging toxicology is that chemicals act not as single agents but synergistically. “The presence of one agent,” says Brown, “can increase the toxicity of another by several-fold.”

    Brown deplores the government’s failures to heed citizens’ cries for help. “No one is asking, ‘What happened to you? Are there other people who have been affected in your area?’ I teach ethics. There’s a level of moral responsibility that we should have nationally. We seem to have decided that we need energy so badly … that we have in almost a passive sense identified individuals and areas to sacrifice.”

    Circles of trust

    No one I interviewed in communities impacted by fracking in southwestern Pennsylvania drinks their water anymore. In fact, I came to think of a case of Poland Spring as a better house gift than any wine (and I wasn’t alone in that). Breathing the air is in a different universe of risk. You can’t bottle clean air, but you can donate air purifiers, as one interviewee, who prefers to be unnamed, has been doing.

    Think of her as a creator of what a new Pennsylvania friend of mine calls “circles of trust.” The energy industry splits communities and families into warring factions. Such hostilities are easy to find, but in the midst of catastrophe I also found mutual assistance and a resurgence of the human drive for connection.

    Ron Gulla, a John Deere heavy equipment sales representative, is driven by fury at the corporation that ruined his soil — his was the second farm in Pennsylvania to be fracked — but also by deep feeling for the land: “A farm is just like raising a child. You take care of it, you nurture it, and you know when there are problems.”

    Gulla credits Barbara Arindell, founder of the country’s first anti-fracking organization, Pennsylvania’s Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, with teaching him about the dangers of the industry’s efforts. Now, he is a central figure in an ever-widening network of people who are becoming their own documentarians. Everyone I interviewed brought out files of evidence to show me: photographs, videos, news reports, and their own written records of events.

    Moreover, in the midst of ongoing stress, many have become activists. Linda Headley and Ron Gulla, for instance, traveled with other Pennsylvanians to Albany this past February to warn New York State officials not to endorse fracking. “A lot of people have said, ‘Why don’t you just walk away from this?’” says Gulla. “[But] I was raised to think that if there was something wrong, you would bring it to people’s attention.’”

    “You have to believe things happen for a reason,” says David Headley. “It’s drawn so many people together we didn’t know before.  You have these meetings, and you’re fighting [for] a common cause and you feel so close to the people you’re working with. Including you guys, the reporters. It’s made us like a big family. Really. You think you’re all alone, and somebody pops up. God always sends angels.”

    Still, make no mistake: This is an alarming and growing public health emergency. “Short of relocating entire communities or banning fracking, ending airborne exposures cannot be done,” David Brown said in a recent address in New York state. “Our only option in Washington County … has been to try to find ways for residents to reduce their exposures and warn them when the air is especially dangerous to breathe.”

    In the vacuum left by the state’s failure to offer protection to those living in fracking zones, volunteers, experts like Brown, and fledgling organizations like the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project have become the new protectors of citizens’ health. Growing numbers of fracking victims, including Angel and Wayne Smith, are also suing gas corporations. “If I could go back to 2000, I’d show them the end of the road and say, ‘Don’t come back,’” Angel told me. “But we’re in the situation now. Fight and go forward.”