EPA to Fracking Victims: Drop Dead

Dimock, PA.

I spend much of my time traveling between the fracked society of Northeastern Pennsylvania (Towanda, County Seat of Bradford) where my sister practices law and lives and my own, pre-fracked Otsego County New York.  It’s about a 3 hour drive each way.  From Towanda, I can get to Dimock, PA–where I went again this week.

That’s a lot of driving.

So, I reflect upon places I’ve seen similarly devastated.

Southeastern Louisiana, around New Orleans comes to mind.

I was a television and radio journalist there in the mid-1980s.

This week, I remembered the morning I received a phone call from a Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) official who was assigned to marshland in a lower parish.  “Frank” was out of breath.  “How soon can you get hee-yah?”, he practically whined into the phone.  “They’re tearing up the marsh before we can get the court order!”  Frank’s wife sensed he needed medical assistance.  He was in the middle of a heart attack.

An oil company was being pressured by the government to drill directionally.   The lawyers were doing their thing in court.  But the executives had ordered workers to go ahead and render the lawyers’ work ‘moot’–if there’s nothing LEFT of the marsh to damage–there is no justiciable issue.  Cutting a channel into the marsh would allow the saltwater and tidal action open the channel exponentially.


Frank was beside himself.  So, he called a journalist–a television journalist. Me.  The local newspaper, the Times Picayune, was largely ignoring a big story:

*Oil companies were failing to use directional drilling off the Gulf of Mexico coast;

*Directional drilling could have saved what was then 50 miles remaining of estuary marshlands south of New Orleans;

*Every mile of that marshland could absorb a foot of hurricane storm surge.

Do the math.

New Orleans did not need to drown during Katrina.

But, first, a dedicated DEQ ranger would try saving his corner of the estuary.

In the middle of his heart attack.

My videographer and I were about 45 minutes away when he called to say his wife was demanding that he get to the emergency room.  We told him to listen to his wife.  “I want to make sure you make the turn-off to get this.  I don’t know how much longer the tugboat’ll  be hee-yah.”   We assured him we could find it.  When we made the turn-off–there was Frank.  We would not have been able to get the shot without him.  There was a little lane we needed to drive down.  “The wife might be right,” he said as he left us and drove himself to the hospital.

Under the tree canopy, there was the tugboat driver.  The operator was ‘executing’ a K-turn.  In the marshland.   The smell of diesel was heavy in the mid-morning swelter.  He got stuck.  He rocked it back and forth until he was turned around and then quickly slid out to the coast, spewing mud and plants.   The saltwater would move northward.

Of course, so would these rapaciously piggy corporate thugs. Three and a half decades later.

You can see their workers display the company attitude:  “Wine-em, Dine-em, Pipeline-em’ on the rear window of the 4-door diesel pickup truck with the Oklahoma plates (why are all these trucks white?).  “Happiness is Dumping My Load” on the rear of a dump truck that monstrously huge digging equipment fills with rich Pennsylvania river-bottom farmland.

You might expect that attitude from people who don’t know any other way to make a living.

You don’t expect to see it from the ‘best of the best’ environmental regulators.

But the EPA officials I saw in Dimock April 18th were nothing like ‘Frank’ from Louisiana DEQ.  They were more refined, and, I suspect, better paid.  Yet, they were worse than any crude tug operator, pipeline crew member, or dump-truck driver.

These people knew better.

These people have options.

Not so Craig and Julie Sautner.  And their two teenagers living with them on the GASLAND-famous Carter Road in Dimock, PA.

Barack Obama and Joe Biden say ‘natural’ gas from the Marcellus bedrock underlying vast tracts of Pennsylvania and New York will be a ‘transition’ fuel to the solar panels other countries have used for decades.  Both men take huge amounts of campaign dollars from the companies benefitting from the devastation visited (regionally) first upon tiny Dimock, PA–the same companies paying millions to tell us that solar power will not work.

Both politicians take money from the companies pushing for a ‘new national grid’–when we could convert our old empty factories to make solar panels we could install on every home and factory.  Who needs a grid?  Who needs the oil companies?  Who needs regulators who don’t do their jobs?

What I documented a few weeks ago is monumental evidence of federal agency corruption.   They thought they could get away with it in the modest rural home of Craig and Julie Sautner.

 Watch the video. 

I know it’s good because an astro-turf website of fracking supporters in Dimock has pirated it, edited it to distort its message and posted it on ‘Dimock Proud’ a website advised by EID Marcellus–the propaganda arm of the fracking industry.

I did it because Julie and Craig Sautner asked me to come videotape the meeting.  Back in December, Josh Fox and Mark Ruffalo and the big environmental groups held their public show of support for the Sautners after the local gas supporters blocked free water from coming to those afflicted by fracking.  They brought a lot of water to Carter Road.  Drinkable water.

I said to Julie that there may come a time when there’s no one willing to come to Dimock–that’s when she could call me and I’ll come document for her.  Then a moneyed person expressed interest in my video.  So, unlike my other videos, I did not put a creative commons release on this video.   I said it would be fair use with prior permission.

That brought me some derision from some citizen journalists–people who never do anything but self-publish or post to a particular anti-fracking site.  Less than 24 hours later, DimockProud.com has pirated my video, distorting it in the process.   Let me say to the thieves:  apologies for the quality–it’s finished in iMovie because I cannot afford Final Cut Pro yet.  Apologies for it’s less-than-slick presentation.

But, the admissions documented should astound everyone–even gas drilling supporters.

Here’s why:

*The EPA claimed the Sautner’s water is fit to drink;

 *The EPA admitted to raising the ‘detect’ levels of suspected and known carcinogens appearing in the Sautner’s water;

*The EPA said they raised the detect levels whenever there were suspected ‘laboratory contaminants’ or ‘contaminated samples’ (I’m not making this up–watch the video);

*The EPA brought along, unannounced, a Pennsylvania regulatory official (a breed of human which should no longer have any credibility remaining whatsoever).

The composure of the Sautners should also astound you–not the least of which because Craig Sautner resolutely does not cuss.


Both Sautners had many reasons to cuss that day, including:

 *The condescending demeanor and words of the EPA and PA officials (watch the ENTIRE video);

*Statements that officials would not drink the Sautners’ (newly deemed) ‘safe’ water because they may have done something to their own water (Watch Trish Taylor in the video at 25:26);

*Claims the Sautners have a history of ‘bacteria’ problems with their well (not true, and even if it were true–many people in the Marcellus region opt out of treating ‘iron bacteria’ choliform colonies with yearly chlorine ‘shock’ treatments or year-round ultra-violet lights;

*The PA ‘Sort of a Toxicologist’ claims (twice 30:36 and 30:47) that Craig had somehow fixed a door so that the industry-captured-regulators could not leave the Sautner’s house (as if anyone would such duplicitous guests to STAY?);

*Claims that Methane in their home well is not a health hazard (though it ‘may’ be a fire hazard).

 Watch the video.

I came to Dimock that day thinking I would be videotaping true public servants–people like ‘Frank’ or the newly ousted EPA official who was denounced as a regulator and ‘environmentalist’–as if the two occupations are incompatible.

By the way, Frank had a heart attack when he first saw the tug in the marshland.  The hospital officials bawled him out for not coming sooner, but he was fine.  Not so the marshland.  Not so the 9th Ward.

But, the Sautners are fine, for now.   You wonder how they bear up under all this pressure.

All this bullshit.

The township of Dimock refused to sign a ‘mutual aid’ agreement to let the City of Binghamton bring them clean water.  Just to be mean.  (I have that on videotape as well.) There is a court case ongoing regarding the removal of a state-ordered water supply to their home.

So, lawyers call.

Film crews call.  “Can you take me to get some video of someone lighting their water on fire?”  or “I want to see a burn-off.”

Environmental groups call.  Come to our fundraiser.  Let us do a photo-op (to fundraise–for what?  More buses to Albany to yell inside a building or deliver another petition?).   One young leader of a group that’s provided the Sautners water told Julie the other day that their coffers were ‘bleeding’ from providing water to her family.

This is what I call a fracked society.

No one seems to know how to behave.

Least of all the EPA.

They are still refusing to give the Sautners what they requested after hearing all the double-speak about ‘new protocols’ for lab testing, ya dada ya dada:  the original sample results before the ‘detect’ levels were raised.

Simple data.

Call the EPA at 202-564-4700 and demand they give the original Dimock lab tests for EVERY home tested by our regulatory agency back in January.  Make sure they get half as worked up as they made the Sautners and all the other people in Dimock the day they told them their water  was ‘safe‘ to drink.

You won’t give them a heart attack.

If they are half the public servant  ‘Frank’ was, you might give them a sleepless night or two.

But, don’t bet on it.

Lisa Barr can be reached through her blog Hegemonic Seam.