Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

On public land, a gas company takes private control

On any given day Bob Deering doesn’t know how much trouble he’ll have getting to and from his home. He lives on a mountain in Lycoming County and he’s routinely stopped and questioned by security guards. It’s been happening for the past six years– ever since the natural gas boom began.

“I’ve been coming up here with my grandparents since 1953,” he says. “But if I would have known in 2001 what I know now, I’d never have built a house up here.”

Deering expected to enjoy a quiet retirement. In the early 2000′s, he and his wife built a log home from a kit. Their property is surrounded by state forest and game land.

But in recent years their neighborhood has gotten noisy as gas companies drill wells, build pipelines, and move heavy equipment.

Nearly a third of Pennsylvania’s roughly 2 million acres of public forest land is already available for oil and gas development. Governor Corbett wants to lease even more land, but an environmental group is suing to try to stop him.

“Can I get down that road at all?”

Truman Run Road is the main way to Deering’s home. It’s owned by McHenry township– a rural community of 145 permanent residents. Although Truman Run is a public road, most of the time it’s controlled by a private security firm that works for the gas industry.

The road can handle two-way traffic with regular cars, but it’s not wide enough for cars and large trucks, so travelers often have to wait for clearance at the bottom or the top of the mountain.

“There are times you wait at the bottom for half an hour to come up,” says Deering. “Sometimes, I’m down there… hours.”

One of the ways gas companies have tried to limit their footprint in public forests is by utilizing one-way traffic on existing roads, instead of widening them or building new roads.

There are other ways Deering can get off the mountain, but those routes add a half-hour to his trip.  A few winters ago, he was trapped at home for an entire day when a truck was stuck on the main road. The alternate routes– state forest roads– weren’t maintained at the time and weren’t safe in the bad weather.

Lately he’s had health issues and worries about getting to the doctor’s office on time.

“If I have an appointment, how much extra time do I leave– 15 minutes? An hour?” he wonders. “Can I get down that road at all?”

Safety and security

The McHenry township supervisors say they’ve tried to work out a compromise. Residents can go up and down the road four hours a day– two in the morning and two in the evening.

The rest of the time, the security guards are in charge.

“It has been working well. We don’t hear many complaints,” says supervisor Steve Dawson. “They have certain times for ‘down’ traffic and ‘up’ traffic for the people who have to go to work. Occasionally there’s problems with that, like in bad weather. But during the day–it doesn’t mean they can’t come up or down–it means they might have to wait for a load of trucks.”

Earlier this summer, Deering took StateImpact Pennsylvania on a tour of the area around his home. Many of the trucks we saw were headed to an active drilling site operated by Warren County-based Pennsylvania General Energy (PGE). It’s in a joint venture with a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil.

A PGE drill rig in the Tiadaghton State Forest.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

A PGE drill rig in the Tiadaghton State Forest. Our photos of this rig prompted two security guards to follow us through the forest for several hours.

After a few minutes of taking photos of the drill rig from the public road, a man appears and asks for our names. We tell him who we are and what we’re doing.

The man won’t identify himself but says he’s copying down Deering’s license plate.

“I was told you have to have permission to photograph,” he says.

“From whom?” Deering asks.

“I was just told,” the man says. “I’m just asking you if you have permission.”

He leaves, and a few minutes later another security guard arrives. We ask him if it’s OK to take photos from the road. He doesn’t answer. He uses his phone to take photos of us and walks away.

The security firm, Gas Well Security, didn’t respond to several requests to comment for this story. PGE declined an interview request but sent a statement saying its focus is on the safety of workers and visitors:

 “Any effort by contracted personnel to engage people near our operations is focused on these goals of safety and security and not intended to impede use of public lands.”

As Deering took us along the public roads near his home over the next several hours, two security guards continually trailed us. None of them mentioned safety or security concerns.

Access denied 

Other residents have similar stories. Attorney Mark Givler lives at the bottom of the mountain, along the Pine Creek. He’s an avid hiker and says the gas industry has changed his way of life. When the drilling boom first began, guards blocked him from getting to some of his favorite scenic vistas in the Tiadaghton State Forest.

“When I first tried to get to the scenic views back in 2007, I was arrested in my progress by these security people,” says Givler. “They absolutely denied me access to these public vistas.”

Angered by his experience, Givler wrote letters to then-Governor Ed Rendell and other state officials including the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which manages public forests.

The agency responded saying it has neither the personnel, training, nor budget manage security. Dan Devlin heads the department’s Bureau of Forestry and says things have gotten better.

“I would be the first to admit that very early on, we had a lot of overaggressive security folks that were making things more difficult than they should have been.”

Devlin says the state still leaves security up to gas companies and safety is important, but complaints about public access have dwindled in recent years.

It’s true that things have changed.

Hikers, like Cindy Bower, can go to those vistas again.

She parks her car a quarter-mile away—the road is closed to traffic now—although industry vehicles are allowed.  The path takes her past construction equipment and a fenced-off impoundment pond.

Cindy Bower

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Cindy Bower looks out over the Pine Creek Valley. These scenic vistas were temporarily closed to the public due to gas development.

In the past, she could drive up to the views with her family.

They can’t join her anymore.

“None of my immediate family can walk here,” she says. “For various reasons of mobility having to do with replacement joints, arthritis, and age.”

Bower is a member of the Lycoming County Planning Commission and has watched the gas industry grow in the state forest system.

“Sometimes when you come down a road like this, you’ll get stopped by a vehicle with a person that says, ‘Well what are you doing here?’ I shouldn’t have to be asked what I’m doing on public land.”

Bower is also a board member of the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation—the group suing Governor Corbett to prevent further gas leasing on public land.

A ruling is expected this winter.

Meanwhile, with more development planned near his home, Bob Deering and his wife are thinking of moving.

“She wants [to get] out of here period,” he says of his wife. “Because she deals with the traffic every day. She just doesn’t feel safe anymore.”

 

Comments

  • wendylynnelee

    For more on Bob Deering’s story–in his own words, plus link to three sets of photographs from these sites (including the most recent State game Lands cut for a new PGE pad), please see:

    “From the very start we were followed by gas security people”: how the gas industry harasses and intimidates us into silence

    http://thewrenchphilosleft.blogspot.com/2014/06/from-very-start-we-were-followed-by-gas.html

  • Julieann Wozniak

    In my grandfather’s day the “private security” goons went by the name of Coal & Iron Police, a private army the robber barons assembled right out of military brigs following WWI. Their job was to keep the workers in line and, more importantly, keep undesirables like union men away from the mines. My grandfather allowed union men to meet and organize in the room above his general store. The mine goons attempted to burn down the building, with contained living quarters, with the family inside, including my mom, all of six years old, who was traumatized by flashbacks until the day she died.

    Mine goons, gas goons, little difference in intent or purpose. I just wonder how many of these guys have criminal records for assault and robbery, like in the old days. After all, the “private security firm” Governor Rendell put in charge of PEMA’s placed innocent Pennsylvanians like me on the state’s terror watch list simply for writing negative commentary about PayDEP…which I’m still doing.

    This has clearly become a public safety issue. The gas industry, which regularly treats us like criminals, can’t be trusted to behave in a civil manner.

    • Jack Wolf

      Pinkerton is one of those private security firms. And, I think they are still in business. They were the ones that shot the workers at the Homewood strike.

  • kenneth weir

    The marriage of state and corporate powers is fascism. Corbett ,Scarnatti, Rendell, Costa, Pillegi, White and the rest of the kings and queens need to be thrown out of the golden palaces that the apathetic people of Pennsylvania allow them to inhabit. They should all have to go to work and stop sucking off the peoples teat

    • tke265

      There would be no need for security if the anti’s were not actively engaged in sabotage of well sites and equipment and pipelines. Ironically I find it funny that the gripe is having to wait for traffic in your fossil fueled trucks, suv’s and cars. where are the walkers and tree huggers when it comes to giving up the convenience of fossil fuels

  • Jack Wolf

    The fact that the road is not wide enough for both truck and car traffic, makes this a public threat. What would happen if a fire truck had to get through? We’ve had well fires with loss of life in PA.

  • skekze

    They eat off their children’s plates. The cleanup costs will far out weigh the profits made long after the men who made them move away to land with a cleaner water supply. PA already has superfund sites just sitting idle while the state tarries in collecting the monies owed by long overdue pollution by the industrialization of the 50s. We have two things in PA now. Amish moonpies and pollution. What was once a free country, is now a syphilitic whore peddling a menu of depravities for a shiny dollar. Rape the Earth and she’ll starve you out. The short-term profit you make this shitty century will cost you more dearly and your children will pay the piper his fucking due. Like rats running from a sinking ship, they’ll follow.

    • camille_h

      One of the best & saddest comments I’ve ever read about our sorry state of energy affairs. Thank you.

  • http://www.crackineverything.com/ DeanMarshall

    I have to wonder why I am still hearing ads on WVIA for “Americas Natural Gas” as a Sponsor? No wonder I will not support NPR during the Membership Drives.

  • Steve Todd

    Thank you, commenters. Not for your comments, per se, but for your courage to sign them. These arrogant corporate invaders of OUR public spaces, and the government of, by and for us, whom they own need to hear from us. Anonymous comments are ignored. Citizens are too, but it is harder to do. It’s all we have…let’s make it enough. Peace, and my condolences to those stranded in the extraction colonies of non-human corporate people.

    • DoubleCheck

      People who use their real names while commenting having never received serious physical threats of ambush. Since you ignore anonymous comments, I won’t give either an up vote or a down vote. So there!

      • Steve Todd

        I don’t ignore them, I read hundreds a day. But no one in power is going to act because someone anonymously says something. I agree with you that people who use their real names while commenting having never received serious physical threats of ambush. I have been doing so for over a decade, unscathed.

        • DoubleCheck

          I’m curious. Have you ever moved power with real names? How about petitions? I’m sure you could come up with a few that I would be happy to sign.

          I think the predatory clowns discussed above will require serious pressure to move.

          • Steve Todd

            Yes. Hundreds. I could, if I knew subject matter of petitions are you interested in. You could probably Google them as fast as I could though. The O&G folks will require huge pressure.

          • DoubleCheck

            I’m got plenty coming every day, but if there are some in regard to the O&G folks where there’s need and a chance, I’m certainly game.

            I live in Pennsylvania but not in an area currently affected by fracking and have camped in some of them, e.g. Tioga and Bradford Counties.

  • winterarrives

    i have experienced similar intimidation from security and gas industry workers in central PA. i’ve been screamed at to get out on public roads in my car in Moshannon State Forest and asked what i was doing and where i was going plus trailed by security vehicles. It’s not for safety it’s for intimidation. i drove past a well pad that was releasing pressure by venting methane, it was spewing out a valve into the air with a cloud of mist all around, the place was deserted there were no security guards to warn of the danger. A place that my family has frequented for decades for solace and recreation had turned into an intimidating, hostile and unwelcoming gas field.

    • VAppalachia1

      Not sure to vote up or down, because this is so sad. But thank you for sharing.

      A friend lives on the PA/MD border in Fayette County, and after a dispute with seismic crews over placing a device on his not-leased land, he had a visit first from a “constable” from the seismic crew (which was stressful because none of this seismic crew spoke English well), and then a very intimidating late-night visit from the PA State Police, who told him that Global or Dawson or whoever the seismic people were claimed he had destroyed their property.

      Another American citizen’s vignette from life in a corporate resource colony.

  • Celia Janosik

    We should be asking who they are and what are they doing on OUR state forests?
    We need thousands upon thousands of people in the streets to let the energy industry know how we feel BUT there are many apathetic people in this state until it happens to them.

  • john

    with all the wells being drilled on state forest land and land listed as COP where is the revenue going? the politicians want to tax the money private land owners receive to pay for schools in Phila. but never mention what the state does with the money they receive from their royalties. over half of the wells in Cummings twp. in Lycoming County are on state Forest or COP land.

  • Briget Shields

    Really good story. Thank you for reporting on the contamination of democracy along with the environment here in PA.

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