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Personal Statement, Video: Losing Carl Stiles and Feeling Fractured

February 1, 2012

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.

Broader Context

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.

  1. February 1, 2012 10:12 am

    There are no words to adequately express the sadness this destructive industry has brought to the family of Carl Stiles, and all those affected wherever this industry takes hold. There will be no justice for the people who are being sacrificed for corporate profits until the people rise up en mass and demand it.

    To all those who claim that ‘necessary sacrifices’ must be made, I say… you first!

    Rest in peace, Carl.

  2. February 1, 2012 11:20 am

    Several years ago, after hearing Paul Hawkins speak, and reading his book “Blessed Unrest”, I remember being hit with a tsunami-like consciousness concerning the evil nature of behemoth global corporations. It wasn’t that I was previously unaware, but that I had, at least in part, chosen not to know, because knowing was so painful. And, as Calvin Tillman says, “Once you know, you can’t not know.” Thousands upon thousands of people on this planet have been disfigured, maimed, handicapped, made ill, and killed at the hands of corporations. Carl Stiles has sadly joined their ranks. For those of us that remain, it is indeed a disturbing time to be alive. It is also a great opportunity to make our lives count for something – to work to turn the tide and usher in a new way of being human on the earth. If we do not make the necessary changes, humankind will soon be extinct. In all likelihood, most of us will not live to see the fruits of our labors, or even to know if we have been successful. However, we can claim we did our best, and made a difference in the world with the time we had here. Ultimately, isn’t that what life is about?

    Barb Jarmoska

  3. Sheri Winslow permalink
    February 1, 2012 8:13 pm

    Hi, I’m Carls sister , Sheri. I would like to thank Ms. Bloom for the kind words about my brother.This last week has been absolute hell for our family but it is nothing compared with what Carl and Jude have gone thru for the last year. No one should have to suffer like that in a country where everything under the sun is regulated. But these companies are poisoning innocent people and nothing is being done to stop them. People dont want to believe this is happening until it happens to someone they know. What an awful way to learn the truth. I wouldnt wish it on my worst enemy. Carl was my only brother. Fracking killed him. He wont be the last person that is lost from this horrible business, but I hope his death brings more people to question the safety of fracking and gets people to listen to these families who are suffering. Thank you Ms. Bloom! Sincerely, Sheri Winslow

  4. February 2, 2012 4:45 pm

    So sad, so senseless, so absolutely infuriating that this tragedy occurred…that a life was cut short, leaving a wake of loss and grief amongst Carl’s family and friends and deep sadness amongst those like us who never even knew him…due to the insatiable greed of a ruthless industry. We convey our deepest sympathy to Carl’s family. And we hope that his loss triggers a mass demonstration of resistance and opposition to fracking with all of its devastating effects.

    Shary and Gary Skoloff

  5. Kathy Sommers permalink
    February 3, 2012 12:57 pm

    To the Stiles family, I am soooo very sorry for your loss… I hope the autopsy shows what was ailing Carl and that fracking was the cause. It is the smoking gun to show America what the greed for oil is doing to people… My prayers are with you.

  6. Simone permalink
    February 3, 2012 5:08 pm

    I send my condolences to Carl Stiles’s family and friends. Fracking has brought so much suffering and disease to American citizens. We have to remember that we have a right to live without being poisoned by unregulated corporations, and without being driven to despair and death by their unmediated greed. Fracking extracts many costs that can never be recuperated. The death of Carl Stiles is one. The collective cost will continue until our government is forced by U.S. citizens to step forward and enact the legislation necessary to prevent the destruction of people’s lives.

  7. February 3, 2012 11:49 pm

    The shale gas companies should be charged with HOMICIDE! Send a photo of Carl to the EPA and DEP every day until they do their damn job~~~~~~

    • Kimm permalink
      February 4, 2012 12:23 am

      And to President Obama.

  8. February 5, 2012 5:29 pm

    Sending heartfelt condolences to you all… Heartbreaking news to hear… My own visit to Sugar Run and Paradise Rd last spring left me stunned on meeting people and hearing of the impacts… This industry ruins lives in so many ways, as it does also here in Colorado


  9. Eric permalink
    February 16, 2012 7:05 pm

    I wan’t to know who is delivering the replacement water in bradford county and is that water being tested! My company is the only approved potable water hauler in all of north central PA and we have to test the water weekly. We offered the gas companies our service but they tell me they don’t need my services. When I was in New Albany last week I was appalled at the water delivery trucks I saw. If I had to deal with this problem I would demand clean and tested water. Keep calling the dep in harrisburg.


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