Marching for Clean Water and Justice in Dimock
Written by Guest Blogger Ann Dixon
September 2011 marked the third anniversary of the contamination of at least 19 families’ drinking water in Dimock, PA by Cabot Oil and Gas. In October 2010, John Hanger, then head of the DEP, stood in Dimock Baptist Church and told people that a water pipeline would be installed from the neighboring town of Montrose, to bring clean water from Lake Montrose to Dimock. That never happened.
Craig Stevens and others organized a walk to bring a symbolic amount of water from Lake Montrose to Dimock. On sunny September 25, three Philadelphia area residents met up with other supporters in a Montrose shopping center lot. There were people from Dimock, neighboring towns, as well as those from just over the New York State border. Many of us wore t- shirts and buttons reading, “FIX IT! Three years of contaminated water.”
Thirty five of us made a short trek to Montrose Lake where we each filled a container with water. We then continued walking to the town’s war memorial in a park. Short speeches were made as well as a blessing of the water. One local activist lamented the small crowd. She has been working on this issue for years and each year thought that the number of visible supporters in Dimock would grow, but the number at this march was still small. Angela Monti Fox, mother of Gasland movie maker Josh Fox, countered that even though it might not be obvious in Dimock, the numbers of those working on this issue and their successes have grown.
About 25 of us continued the seven miles to Dimock on foot . Others drove sag wagons. We walked along a narrow shoulder. On our left were asters, golden rod and firery red sumac and on our right, the road to Dimock. Cars, water trucks, and “residual waste” trucks used the narrow, hilly two lane road.
Our group got many friendly honks of support and waves from passing cars. But one car passed with someone chanting, ”Let’s go Cabot, let’s go!” as if at a ball game.
A man came to the end of his driveway to harass marchers. He said that residents lost alll sympathy when they interrupted a meeting and that we were standing in the way of energy for all. He didn’t seem to be listening when someone talked about the solar alternative. He admitted people deserved water. A victim of Cabot’s contamination sarcastically thanked him for acknowledging that. I could see pain in her face and hear it in her voice when she spoke.
I asked a couple of people what group had organized the day’s march, or of what group they were members. Both times the reply was, “we are victims.”
The sense of social isolation experienced by those speaking out against Cabot Oil and Gas, which contaminated the aquifer in Dimock, was apparent throughout the day. It started in the parking lot where five people came to harass demonstrators. I was told that these five people live in New York State and come to every event. We humans have developed over milennia to be social animals, so isolation is no small punishment.
I heard numerous stories about a billboard that read “Fix It!” in reference to the polluted water and the cancelled clean water pipeline. This billboard was paid for in good faith, but didn’t stay up long. The person who owned it said that he didn’t want anyone to be offended.
Victoria Switzer’s water is contaminated. She gets enough water from Cabot for drinking and showering; but uses tap water to wash her clothes. The inside of her washer is orange from the contaminants, she said. She’s worried about absorbing toxins through her skin, and said she needs to get blood tests.
Mike Bernhard of Chenango County, New York said that Iris Marie Bloom was his hero for teaching him that people respond to their own economic interests, rather than abstract talk about the environment. Now he takes information packets to land owners that shows leasing and drilling isn’t in their own best interest.
Chris brought her daughter to the march. She organizes walks for water just like the one we were doing. She sent the health department in Kingsley a letter asking how they will protect citizens against the dangers of fracking. They didn’t reply, so she organized a water walk and brought a bunch of citizens to the health department. They wouldn’t even open the door. Now Chris plans to asks other health departments what they are doing to protect people.
This winter Alex noticed a truck dumping liquid next to a road. He took down the license plate number and called both Cabot and the DEP. Both said that it was just water. But throughout the winter, when everything else was frozen, this so called “water” didn’t freeze. Now Alex, who lives near Dimock, is researching who to support in the next elections.
I felt privileged to hear these difficult realities, and inspiring persistence, while walking with gas drilling victims and with activists. We ended our walk, appropriately, at the church where John Hanger made his unfilulfilled promise one year ago.
Written by Protecting Our Waters organizer and guest blogger Ann Dixon