Shale Country Kindness
The compassion residents of The Woodlands, Connoquenessing Township (Butler County, Pennsylvania), are showing to each other as they cope with living with contaminated water is extraordinary. So is the outpouring of generosity towards them.
It’s not enough. Their lives have been turned upside down by gas drilling, and that’s outrageous. We’re working for a moratorium so that others don’t experience what The Woodlands residents, and so many others, have. Meanwhile, compassionate action matters a great deal.
The variety of form is great, but the heart-felt sharing consistent. “When they saw us buying hundreds of gallons of drinking water for all the affected families, ordinary folks in the Costco parking lot literally ran up to us and give us cash,” Janet McIntyre said last week. McIntyre’s water began foaming out of the tap in January 2011; she reported that multiple family members vomited for days until they stopped drinking tap water at her home. Now Janet and her husband Fred, despite health problems, have become champions of the weekly Woodlands water deliveries through rutted rural roads.
Churches, Marcellus Outreach Butler and other organized groups from surrounding counties have been chipping in, making a tremendous difference day to day in the survival of a dozen Woodlands families whose water went bad – in some cases turning dark gray or a bright orange-red – after Rex Energy began drilling and fracking nearby. Even Walmart has promised a thousand dollar check to the impacted families next week, enabling them to buy 2000 gallons of drinking water at $.50 / gallon. Protecting Our Waters’ (POW) Emergency Replacement Water Fund has generated over $1000 in donations from the Philadelphia area; throughout the Marcellus Shale region, and as far away as Washington, D.C. Disbursements from the fund, affectionately dubbed “Water LOVE,” began this past Monday, with coordination on the ground from impacted families.
Shale country kindness is special, in my view, because it’s so urgently needed. The impulse to help is innate, no less than its more famous and better-studied cousin, the impulse to hurt. Studies have shown that consciously cultivated compassion actually changes the human brain; and that among people who practice steady, deep meditation an area of the brain associated with compassion gradually enlarges. Because of neuroplasticity (the ability of the human brain to change itself), thoughts and actions which are kind and generous increase the likelihood of further kind, generous thoughts and actions; and in addition, kindness is socially contagious.
So, from farmer Stephen Cleghorn, who hauled his own water buffalo (large plastic container) from his farm over to the McIntyre’s place, to the folks in the Costco parking lot, to the incredibly determined and talented group Marcellus Outreach Butler, the area churches, and all the “Water LOVE” donors: Keep it up. Your brains are growing right along with your hearts. And you are positively contagious.
But it all pales in comparison to the families’ solidarity with each other. Kim McEvoy gives up 6 of her gallons each week to make sure a blind neighbor gets enough. Sheri Makepeace, with three small children to take care of, found the courage to speak out not only for herself, but for her neighbors. Janet McIntyre takes care of everybody with nonstop communication and works with her husband Fred – and with Diane Sipe and Jason Bell of Marcellus Outreach Butler – to keep the water deliveries rolling.
We don’t know if they can keep it up, because it’s exhausting and impractical and some families are going without normal things folks in the U.S.generally expect, like safe showers at home. A long-term solution hasn’t arrived, and won’t arrive without steady pressure on EPA, PA DEP and the PA Department of Health to provide replacement water for the impacted families and to create a permanent solution.
Last week, when news of the pending release of 1/3 of the POW “Water LOVE” funds was spread in the Woodlands neighborhood, one woman “almost collapsed, she was so grateful,” reported Janet McIntyre. It’s terrible that the need is so great.
Obviously kindness is not and will not be enough to make the needed policy changes from bottom to top. We must rise up to create transformative justice so that our own communities and our children’s future is not destroyed. Anger and courage, strategy and indefatigable activist alliances, are necessary. But without kindness all along the way, our fabric becomes too frayed to mend.
Cheers to all you champions of compassion. For these families you are making the difference between a rock, a hard place, and a place to call home. Homes become again places in which to rest, cleanse, restore, and take refuge — only with clean safe water and air.