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  • Writer's pictureThe Editors

Michele Beegle

Updated: Apr 10, 2018

We’ve lived on our land since 1983. It was given to our generation by my father-in-law. I loved it here. It was quiet. If you saw more than one car all day something was going on. We could sit on our porch and be out in the yard, and only hear birds singing all the time. We never worried about what we were drinking or breathing. Our three children were born and raised here. Back then everyone got along with their neighbors. Everyone is family. We keep an eye out for everyone. You could count on people. Now there’s a division between people.

In 2014 we applied for a second mortgage. We wanted to update the furnace, the bathroom, and put in a pool for the grandchildren and my husband, Robert. The water therapy is good for him. He suffers from severe back pain and neuropathy that was caused when a tree fell on him in January of 1988. We applied for a $15,000 loan. Our credit was excellent and our home had recently been appraised at $125,000. We didn’t expect a problem. Our home and our credit is all we have. Robert doesn’t believe in credit cards. “If you can’t afford it, you don’t need it,” he always says. We had previously taken out a loan on the house to help pay for our youngest daughter to go to nursing school. We’ve never missed a payment on the house and we paid off our last car loan early.

We went straight to Hometown Bank of Pennsylvania. We have banked with them for the last 10 years. We filled out the paperwork and were initially approved. A few days later, Carol at the bank called us. She explained that the attorney had looked at the loan and it was too big of a risk for them. She said that since the water well was contaminated, the property wasn’t even worth the $33,000 we still owed on it. They said it was worth nothing. We tried three other banks, but the result was the same. At first they would approve us but as soon as they saw the tax assessment said “contaminated well” they turned us down.

Our water well was dug on September 15, 1989. It is a 118 ft. artesian well. When it was dug they tested the water. The test showed traces of sulfur and iron so we had a filter installed to filter them out. Once a year, our contractor, George comes out and changes the filter.

Gas drilling started in our area around 2002. Pennsylvania General Energy Corp (PGE) drilled five production wells, 2002 being the first well. We were lied too from the start. We were told these wells would last for 10 to 15 years. The one they drilled on our land, SR 6, only lasted 2 ½ years. We were lied to from the start.

Then PGE sold to this company Steckman Ridge, a spin-off of Duke Energy. Steckman Ridge has become a real life nightmare. This company has plans to put in 23 wells, for storage of gas, and built The Spectra Energy facility – known as Steckman Ridge – is a 12-billion cubic feet underground natural gas storage reservoir with a 5,000 horse power compressor station, 13 injection/withdrawal wells and related pipeline infrastructure in Monroe Township, Bedford County, Pennsylvania. The compressor station is LESS than 0.66 miles from our property, and the wells are as followed from our home, SR. 6 is 1,713.49 feet and 1663 is 4,402. feet. We are downhill from SR. 6.

In 2007 George came out to change the filter on our water well. I remember him telling us that the water “wasn’t right.” He recommended testing it. Two or three days later the lab called us and told us not use the water to drink or bathe. The results showed arsenic levels of MCL = 0.034 mg/l. According to EPA, the maximum “safe” level is MCL = 0.010 mg/l. The PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) also tested the water and found similar levels. After that, water tests became a way of life.

In July of 2008 the DEP tested the water again. The level of arsenic was MCL = 0.0225 mg/l. Strontium was detected at 0.529 mg/l.

In December of 2009, the arsenic spiked at 0.0719 mg/l. Strontium was at 0.230 mg/l. Our water was also tested using methylene blue active substance (MBAS). MBAS detects the presence of man-made anionic surfactants (such as a detergent or foaming agent) in a sample of water. Our results showed 0.20 mg/l.

The DEP seemed indifferent to our plight. In November of 2010, Sam Jones of the DEP downplayed the high arsenic levels saying that the level wasn’t as high as it is rat poison. As you can guess, that didn’t make us feel any better. When he came to our house he told us that this would be last the DEP tests our water because we were wasting the taxpayers’ money. The results he sent us from the test didn’t even contain results for arsenic or strontium.

Others in the area have also had their water tested. Their water also had arsenic in it. Who knows how long we’d been drinking poisoned water.

In 2007, Spectra Energy/Williams built the Steckman Ridge compressor station 2/3 of a mile from our home. We have experienced numerous problems since then. There have been 40 blow-offs between 2009 and June 2011. A blow off is what they call it when they vent gas, benzene, toluene, formaldehyde, and other toxic chemicals into the air. According to the Bedford Gazette, the local paper, Spectra Energy is legally permitted by the DEP to emit 50 tons annually of volatile organic compounds and 25 tons of hazardous air pollutants.

The first BIG emergency shutdown was in August 2009. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued two Notices of Violation in 2009 for Spectra Energy’s “unlawful conduct” during the first year of operation at its Steckman Ridge compressor station in Clearville (Bedford County), PA. Spectra Energy’s “unlawful conduct” violated air quality and clean stream regulations of the Pennsylvania Code, according to the Pennsylvania DEP and received a $22,000 fine but they never came out to clean up our property. We were given $25.00 to go get something to eat. We really thought it was a joke after oil rained down on all of our property. We had oil all over our cars and garden.

We always had a garden and a small barn for beef cows, pigs, chicken, and turkeys. It was cheaper than the store and you knew what you were eating. Once the compressor station when in, it all went to crap. Our cows just dwindled away. The first one died within a few months. Then there was a second one. We’d never lost a cow before except during birth.

Not long after a blow-off in August 2009, I was working out back in the garden when I blacked out. It happened a second time one morning while my youngest daughter was getting ready for school. I was in the bathroom. When I fell, I landed in front of the door. It took my daughter five minutes to force the door open so she could help me. With time, they became more frequent and lasted longer. I’ve broken every rib except one from all the falls. For safety reasons, I lost my license for a while and I’m not allowed to shower. I’ve been to see specialists in Altoona, Johnston, and Pittsburgh and none of them can tell me for sure what is causing the blackouts.

Once, it happened while I was in the doctor’s office. My daughter was about to start nursing school and she needed a physical. The doctor told me that it was cataplexy as a result of toxic exposure. Now I’m on medication that makes it better and I will be for the rest of my life although it increases my risk for Parkinson’s disease.

On the evening of March 9, 2013 I was outside with the kids when we heard snapping and popping sounds. I thought they were firecrackers. Robert’s brother, who lives up the hill next to compressor station, called and said he could see smoke coming from the station. My bother was at our house that night. He was trained as an electrician in the Air Force and said it sounded like electrical fire. Soon the sound turned into a rush of air like a jet engine.

We called 911 and fire trucks from the nearby town of Everett were sent out. Robert and I have a scanner and were listening to the trucks coming in. I could tell by the radio chatter that they were heading the wrong way so I called 911 and helped them get here. About 3 hours later it was over. According to the newspaper the first responders couldn’t get in to the facility because no one had the key.

Initially Spectra said that only a small amount of air leaked out of the facility due to a faulty valve. Through our own efforts, however, we now know that Spectra Energy’s uncontrolled leak in this latest incident amounts to 431.5 thousand cubic feet of natural gas vented to the atmosphere over a two-day period. That is enough natural gas to power five homes in the Northeast for a year, according to the Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy. Hardly a “small volume” as Spectra Energy officials claimed. Moreover, documents from the DEP reveal that the uncontrolled release was tied to a malfunctioning electronic level switch in a dehydration unit. Another lie.

Coverage in The Bedford Gazette, March 15, 2013

My oldest daughter gave birth to our first grandson in 2011. She was 27 at the time. After he was born, she was diagnosed with pre-cancerous uterine and had a hysterectomy. She had never had any health problems before this. In January of 2012 she went in for surgery. I remember the surgeon telling us in pre-op that he was going to try to save her ovaries but that if he saw anything that looked suspicious he would have to remove them too. If the surgery went any longer than 2 hours we would know that he had found more. I kept up hope until 2 hours and 15 minutes into the surgery and then I knew. He had found more cancer cells on her ovaries.

In September of 2012, my husband was diagnosed with sterility. His testosterone levels were so low they didn’t even register on the test.

A few months later, my son turned 27. He and his wife were trying to have their second child. It had been 7 years since his first child was born. Previously healthy, he was tired all the time. After several tests, they determined that he was sterile in February of 2013. The doctor said that someone his age and in his health should have testosterone levels around 1,000. His was under 200.

When it was just me, I could keep my mouth my shut. But now that my children are suffering too, I won’t be quiet anymore.

I don’t care what they do to me, but don’t mess with my kids.

It is frustrating to know that you worked you’re tail off your whole life and now your land is worthless. Robert’s brother is selling and leaving. They are robbing us of the land that Robert’s father left us.

- Michele Beegle

Reprinted from Shalefield Stories with permission. Learn more about Michele's story on their site.

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