Personal Statement, Video: Losing Carl Stiles and Feeling Fractured
Last Thursday Carl Stiles, a gentle, soft-spoken and understated man who became an environmental refugee after drilling and fracking contaminated his water and his home in Sugar Run, Bradford County, Pennsylvania, took his own life. He was 46 years old.
I have been, and continue to be, sad, shocked, heartbroken. I want to make him be un-dead and I can’t. Because I interviewed Carl and Judy Stiles several times, I keep hearing his soft voice in my ear; I think about the family day and night.
On the morning of Friday January 27th when I first heard the news, I called Judy Stiles, Carl’s widow, to see how she was doing and what I could do to help. She cried and said, “Carl was in so much pain. He had severe headaches, memory loss, and tremors; he was shaking. He went from medicine to medicine and nothing helped.” Referring to the months she and Carl continued to drink their well water after it was contaminated, she burst out, “People call us stupid because we drank the water. But we didn’t get replacement water [from the gas company] until October 2010… You still have to shower, wash dishes… You can’t live without water.”
But then she had to immediately turn to the business of the autopsy and the complications of communicating with the coronor, all while she was still in shock. Judy is determined to find out what they were exposed to, a difficult and demanding quest.
Personally, I have not been the same since then. I feel how important it is for us all to express our love and support for Judy Stiles; her daughter Angelina, and the whole family. It’s also so important it is for us to reach out, give attention and support to all of those in every county and state who are right now suffering from the impacts of gas drilling and fracking for gas and oil. We can’t let people become isolated or give up hope.
Although it can take science an agonizingly long time to come to any conclusions, and policy even longer to catch up (pediatricians wrote textbook warnings about lead poisoning’s impact on children’s brains in 1936, but lead wasn’t banned from paint for forty more years), the impacts of gas drilling on people’s lives is right now.
On the same day I learned the terrible, tragic news about Carl, I heard from Kim McEvoy, whose family is one of six families with contaminated water in Butler County, PA, who had been receiving replacement water from Rex Energy. By January 16th all the families’ water buffaloes (large plastic containers storing their replacement water) had been removed, she said, and the families are receiving only 20 gallons of drinking water a week until February 29th, when they will be on their own again.
Kim said her drinking water had turned black due to gas drilling in the area. She is being told now, by PA DEP and by Rex Energy, that her water is safe to drink. But she doesn’t believe that’s the case, and what’s more, her 330 foot-deep water well is running out of water. “I turn my water on, and have water for 7 minutes, then it runs out,” she said. “Everything is so much harder when you don’t have water.”
That sounds very much like what Craig Sautner, living with contaminated water in Dimock, said on this new CBS News report.
It all starts to sound so terribly familiar: lives being destroyed, one way or another, by gas drilling. To get a sense of the impact, “Fractured Communities, Fractured Lives” summarizes the research by Dr. Simona Perry, “It’s Like We’re Losing Our Love: Documenting and Evaluating Social Change in Bradford County, PA During the Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling Boom 2009-2011.”
Yesterday evening farmer Stephen Cleghorn of Jefferson County, PA told me, “the gas drilling traffic is all backed up; the sand hogs [big trucks carrying sand] were idling near my goat barn, and my neighbor told me she couldn’t sleep because of water trucks going up and down the road every half hour.” His organic farm has 32 pregnant goats right now. Benzene from exhaust is known to cause reproductive harm, as well as asthma and cancer in humans. How do we protect the Paradise Road on which Cleghorn lives? The other Paradise Road in Bradford County, across the state to the east, already has several homes in a row with elevated-to-explosive methane levels and other contaminants. Water buffaloes there contain replacement water for well water ruined by gas drilling; last spring PA DEP identified 16 families in the Paradise Road area with methane migration — some with other contaminants — in their drinking water.
This morning Mike Bastion, a wonderful guy who lives in Bradford County and has dealt with impacts to his water from gas drilling; his wetlands destroyed and wildlife disappearing; his old swimming hole turned into a “take point” for gas drillers withdrawing water; and more, summed up the impacts in email correspondence in fewer words than Simona Perry. “This has ruined my life,” he said.
Love in Action
So people, as we try to come to grips with the terrible loss of Carl Stiles’ life, there are actions we can take which are important. It’s very important to encourage the authorities — ATSDR, EPA and CDC in particular — to give their full attention to trying to understand why Carl was in such pain and why Angelina is having seizures. It’s very important to rise up and demand the death of the Halliburton Loophole right now, within the next 30 days: enough is enough. Enough secrecy, enough arrogance, enough destruction. And Protecting Our Waters remains steadfast that even then we must demand a moratorium and stop permitting disaster. We must fight for our water, our air, our communities; our climate, our children, our future; for democracy, for green jobs, for our lives.
But this is not the right moment to attempt to put the full Carl Stiles chronology out there, simply because the family is still in shock and very much suffering. Photojournalist Nina Berman interviewed Carl Stiles in April 2011 and her profile of him is here; I wrote about Carl and Judy a few times, including a bit in “Black Water and Brazenness,” in June 2011, here.
My own way of honoring Carl right now is to offer you all a beautiful, wordless musical seven-minute music video, a tribute to the land and water we love, to give you time to rest inside your own grief and raise up your soul power for the struggle to come. Please watch this video, which was gifted to us by “Adam” on Protecting Our Waters’ blog at the end of this post. I hope watching it helps strengthen you for the ongoing struggle, even as we honor Carl in our thoughts and offer protection and support to Judy and the family.