Sunday School 107 – “Let us salute the silence and certainty of mountains”

by Duane Nichols on October 11, 2014

Volk Farm in Lewis County WV

Reluctant Activist — Soft-spoken introvert finds herself in the middle of the fracking battle

From a Blog Post by Michael Barrick, The Barrick Report, September 22, 2014

“Let us thank the earth
That offers ground for home
And holds our feet firm
To walk in open space
To infinite galaxies.

“Let us salute the silence
And certainty of mountains:
Their sublime stillness,
Their dream-filled hearts.”

From the poem “In Praise of the Earth” by John O’Donohue in his book, “To Bless the Space Between Us”

WESTON, W.Va. – Ten miles west of here, Barbara Volk gracefully eases through the woods along a steep slope of her 200-acre farm. A self-described introvert interested primarily in the natural world in which she lives and works, Volk is now a reluctant activist, having been forced to join in the fight against the natural gas industry which looks to dramatically – and irreversibly – transform the quiet hills of North Central West Virginia.

In short, she is sure that the rapidly growing fracking industry, which is expected to build upwards of 300 horizontal natural gas fracturing wells in western Lewis County, will forever disturb her peace. “I live a really idyllic life. But I also work very hard. Everything I do every single day is something I love to do.”

So, she fights. “I have been involved ever since I knew it was coming to West Virginia because I drive through southwestern Pennsylvania a lot and saw the devastation there.” Now, it is much closer, just north of here, over the ridge in Doddridge County.

Asked how she responds to claims by gas producers that fracking has no negative impact upon people and the environment, she offers, “It just seems to me that anyone can tweak statistics in their favor. In Doddridge County, I have seen the polluted water. I have seen ponds with dead fish. They can claim it is not fracking, but that’s the only thing that’s changed.”

She also points to the noise pollution associated with the construction of well pads; the flaring that produces fierce, bright flames that light up the night sky; pollution to ground and surface water; the impact upon the narrow, harrowing roads throughout the region; and the disharmony that is already occurring between neighbors who work in the industry and those, like her, that oppose it.

Her modest home has skylights that offer an unobstructed view of the sky. “With the gas flares, I won’t be able to see the stars. It’s noisy. The blow-off tanks go off 24-hours a day.” She continues, “I need a big buffer.” Pointing from her kitchen to the ridge across the way, she added, “I remember when they drilled conventional wells. It was constant noise and lights. It drove me crazy.”

She is also concerned because she does not own her mineral rights. She argues, “I’m a surface owner. I am supposed to have rights. We are being bulldozed by these corporations. I own everything I see. I won’t see the stars. I won’t have quiet. I won’t have peace. That needs to be taken seriously.”

She concludes, “I just want to breathe, to be quiet – to enjoy the quiet. I am afraid that is coming to an end. When I grow old, if these companies are successful, West Virginia will no longer be beautiful.”

As one listens to Volk, and enjoys a walk with her in the woods with the only sound being a slight breeze rustling the leaves slowly changing to the colors of autumn, one is drawn back to John O’Donohue’s poem as he pleads:

“Let us ask forgiveness of the Earth
For all our sins against her:
For our violence and poisonings
Of her beauty.”

To learn more about Barbara Volk, visit her website.

Note: This article is exerpted from the second installment in a series of the Barrick Report about fracking, controversial because of its impact on public safety and health, as well as the environment.

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