A group of environmentalists led a tour last week of natural gas wells and compressor stations through Van Buren and Faulkner counties.
Before the tour, Ruth Breech of Global Community Monitor showed the group how to put together a kit that residents can use to monitor air quality. The samples can provide "a snapshot of what’s happening in the air," she said.
Global Community Monitor is a California-based group that is undertaking a five-state air quality project. Those states are Arkansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Pennsylvania and New York.
On Saturday, Breech’s group and the Faulkner County Concerned Citizens Advisory Group held a workshop to show how to build the kits to monitor the air. A "Bucket Brigade" is being funded by two foundations and the $15,000 will allow for testing 10 air samples, of which at least two will be taken in Van Buren County, according to Concerned Citizens’ Emily Lane. Each test costs $490 for analysis, $120 for the kit and $20 for each sample bag.
The day before the workshop, the group traveled down gravel roads and some narrow highways to look at gas wells and compressor stations in Quitman, Gravesville, Bee Branch, Rabbit Ridge and Damascus.
One of the stops was at the Buffalo Mountain Road compressor station run by Southwestern Energy near Quitman.
As the group observed the station, Richard Burnette drove up in his pickup. He said he owns 600 acres in the area including the compressor station land. He said he agreed to the station because he knew it was inevitable and thought he might as well get paid for it.
Near the compressor station, the tour stopped at a site where a house once stood. April Lane, spokesman for the advisory group, said there were four water wells on the property and after a well was drilled nearby, they all began spewing methane gas. She said three of them were plugged, and a year and a half later, the one left unplugged is still spewing. The house has been torn down.
A family living nearby filed a lawsuit claiming the had suffered health problems. The suit was settled and the family cannot talk about it.
April Lane said she has heard from 30 or more people living near gas wells who say they have symptoms ranging from nose bleeds to nausea and sinus and memory problems.
"People need to know," April Lane said. "People need to be scared, they need to start panicking." She also said first responders are not properly trained in case of emergencies at a gas site.
Lane said she would like to see a six-month moratorium on drilling so that studies and state agencies can catch up with the industry.
The next to the last stop on the tour was at the Bee Branch home of Beverly Langford. She does not own the mineral rights on her 17 acres of land, but 12 of her 17 acres have been turned into a pad for eight gas well.
Mineral rights owners "get a check, and we deal with it," she said.
She said tests on her well waters have twice come back clean but she still doesn’t drink it. It gets pieces of shale in it whenever hydraulic fracturing is going on nearby, she said.
Langford says the gas industry needs to understand that Arkansas’ atmosphere and terrain is not like that of Texas or Oklahoma. Particles hang in the air, and she is pushing for a closed-loop drilling system that she thinks would help the air quality.