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Air Too Dangerous to Breathe: How Gas Drilling Can Turn Rural Communities Into Industrial Wastelands [With Photos]

Drilling is just the tip of the iceberg. Compressor stations have been associated with significant headaches, bloody noses, skin lesions, blisters, and rashes.

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At the local high school, for the first time ever in Pennsylvania history, the DEP allowed a public hearing on a compressor station.

The Shields station slated for Dimock is the fifth compressor station proposed in the last four months for Susquehanna County.

That the meeting even happened was considered by activists to be a great victory, given the longstanding secrecy and industry bias, which has characterized the Pennsylvania DEP.

"Pennsylvania has a history of welcoming extractive industries, so there is definitely more of a culture of let's move forward quickly on these," said Jay Duffy, a staff attorney for the Clean Air Council in Philadelphia. Canvassing door to door the past two months generated such a large number of written comments on the Shields application to convince the DEP to hold a hearing.

Residents who had never attended a protest, who didn't see themselves in the pro-fracking or anti-fracking camp, showed up to learn and express their concerns about air quality. They left with few answers.

"They are not providing the public with full files. When we request file reviews, they have been just allowing us to see the applications. They are not allowing us to see the full permit, " Duffy said. Last month, the Clean Air Council asked the EPA to step in, charging that the Pennsylvania DEP has consistently failed to comply with public input requirements regarding Marcellus Shale permitting activity.

A culture of secrecy and industry favoritism is just one problem. The other is that the Pennsylvania DEP refuses to acknowledge any kind of cumulative impact that occurs when one compressor station is followed by another and then another.

In Southwestern Pennsylvania, for example, there are now 10 compressor stations and a processing plant in a 13-mile radius.

"The DEP says these are all small sources, but when you have a house that is in the middle of it all, sucking in 900 tons a year of pollutants. Only the DEP is looking at them individually, the community is breathing them in cumulatively," Duffy said. The Clean Air Council is suing the DEP on the cumulative impact issue.

"They have a lot of exemptions for the industry. They have the failure to do inventory, the failure to do long-term monitoring. These are all things that are fairly unique in Pennsylvania — kind of kowtowing to the natural gas industry here," Duffy said.

Organic farmers Mary and Adron Delarosa and their young daughter sat through half of the hearing before leaving. Matt Walker, a Clean Air Council organizer had visited their one-room home earlier in the evening to urge them to attend. For more than a year, they had experienced the anxiety of living within a mile of four wells and not knowing if their water was safe. A compressor station is planned nearby. Already, farmers they know have been told their products are no longer wanted, because they are grown in Susquehanna County. The Delarosas left the meeting knowing one thing for certain. They won't be living by the new compressor station. In February, they're giving up their farm, putting their house on a trailer and leaving Pennsylvania.

Nina Berman is a photographer and the author of Purple Hearts: Back From Iraq .

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