Keeping the dust down

Priscilla Older and her neighbors have been effective in their community actions and organizing since drilling began in their area two years ago.

Priscilla Older lives just down the road from Cindy, in a beautiful home on 6.5 acres she bought in 2002.

While driving us through the area, she paused to marvel at a ridge of flowering trees blooming in the transformed landscape. “This road was just gorgeous,” Priscilla said. “I used to walk my dog up there.” But walking along the rural roads isn’t something she does much anymore, not since the drilling started two years ago.

With conflict and upheaval between neighbors and the companies, between residents and the township board, between neighbors and neighbors, and with few people outside the valley venturing in or experiencing the fuss for themselves, Priscilla has trouble explaining to others “how isolated we sometimes feel.”

Isolated, and sometimes powerless. When the drilling started, she began attending township meetings. According to Priscilla, the supervisors couldn’t or wouldn’t do much, telling residents “We can’t do this” or “we can’t do that.” But the problems kept building, and two years later, she said, “Their tune has really changed.”

Priscilla bought a house in Marshlands for the quiet, but there is constant truck traffic now, and all the road maintenance is staged across the street from her house.

The road maintenance is also constant. Dump trucks dump gravel. Dozers push gravel. They back up, beeping. As long as the gas company trucks use the road, maintenance must continue to keep the road passable.

Priscilla is polite, soft spoken. She’s a librarian, after all. But her reaction to the situation has surprised even her. “My emotional effects have been rage,” she said, “fantasies about shooting someone. I’ve never had anything like it before.”

“The other side of it is sadness,” she said. “Sometimes I want to play solitaire all day and not talk to anyone.” She recognizes that these are normal emotions under circumstances like these.

“I feel better when I’m doing something,” she said.

She attends and speaks up at township meetings. She and her neighbors have fought to improve road conditions and minimize road dust. And they are working together to show “Split Estate” in Gaines Township at the Pine Creek Methodist Church at 7 pm on Wednesday, May 19.

While she hasn’t leased, she drinks spring water from the mountain behind her, and worries that drilling on adjacent land could compromise her spring and her health.

But for Priscilla, who was trained as a sociologist, the water alone isn’t her biggest concern. “This has really taught me something about the environmental movement,” she said. “They appear to separate out the people. They worry about air quality and water quality as abstractions. I think that’s why some people see environmentalists as enemies.”

Priscilla isn’t even from Pennsylvania. She moved to the area in 1988. “I’ve lived longer here than I’ve lived anywhere. I’ve become attached to it,” she said. Which is why, even though she’s fed up with the drilling, she’s struggling with the idea of leaving.

“I love the people out here,” she said. “I just do.”