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The first thing I noticed as I approached my sister’s town of Montrose, PA, was the traffic.  My last visit was four years ago, and the town had changed a lot even then, but I don’t remember so much truck traffic on the one lane road through town.

When I commented about the traffic, my sister explained that it is because of the gas drilling. My 76 yr old sister doesn’t follow politics and tends to believe whatever she hears from her friends at Penny’s Cafe.  When I asked her if any of the area residents protested the hydraulic fracturing method as dangerous, her answer was that it’s better to produce our own energy and not have to rely on “someplace like Syria.”

My sister is one of the more educated residents of Montrose, and she believes the gas company propaganda.  So what hope is there for this sad little town?  They believe the gas company has saved them from becoming a ghost town.  Most of the other job opportunities have dried up or moved too far from town to make it reasonable to commute to work.

At the old inn on Main Street where my husband and I spent two nights, the rumble of truck traffic is constant and disturbing.  There happened to be a pot hole right in front of the inn, so the heavy trucks made a “kar-umphing” sound as they hit that hole every 2-3 minutes. (I actually timed them.)

My sister said the noise continues 24/7 except for Sunday mornings. I’m guessing that was part of the deal.  The gas company allows the people a few hours of peace and quiet each week.

At dinner, I asked my niece and grand-niece what they thought of the gas drilling.  They see it as a mixed blessing.  On the one hand, the money the workers make gets recycled in the community as they pay rent, shop, and eat in the diners.  On the other hand, with all the new workers bidding for apartments, the rents have shot up and forced longtime residents out of those apartments.

My niece said there is a lot of tension among farmers who used to be close friends because some want the drilling and pipelines on their property and others don’t. She observed that “People aren’t working as hard as they used to.” I understood that to mean the new money is tempting farmers to give up growing crops.  Coincidentally, my niece’s husband sells farm equipment which may be why he has noticed the changes in farm productivity.

When I asked about people’s drinking water being affected, they said six families complained about their wells being contaminated, and the gas company agreed to drill them new wells.  A handful of protesters show up one evening a week in a nearby town, but “nobody pays any attention to them.”

My grand-niece is 20 years old and more aware of the environmental damage caused by fracking.  She said she wished Pennsylvania had done the same as New York State and established a moratorium until more is learned about the consequences of this type of drilling.  Montrose is about 30 miles north of Scranton and only 25 miles from Binghamton, NY.

I asked whether the gas company was going to pay to fix the roads their trucks are tearing up. Evidently, some money is going to the local road department, but the taxes being paid by the drilling company to the state probably won’t come back to the local area, according to my niece.  They are not optimistic about their roads being repaired.

I asked the waitress in a local diner about the awful noise rumbling by just a few feet from the window where I was eating breakfast.  She said most of the traffic was the “water trucks.”  

So I paid closer attention, and saw that some of the tanker trucks were labeled “fresh water,” and some were labeled “residual waste.”  But there were hundreds of dump trucks abd flat bed trucks loaded with rock too.  I learned later that there is also a bluestone shale quarry nearby that has been in business for years.  So maybe the local folks are so used to truck traffic that a few hundred more a day doesn’t bother them.

It’s like the frog in the boiling pot metaphor. The destruction of this quiet little town has been so gradual, and they are so desperate for income, that they don’t even notice the earth shattering noise a few feet from their doors.  When an older woman was ready to leave the diner and had to cross the street, three people sitting near her offered to walk her across the street.  They joked about how easy it would be to get rid of a crabby relative by pushing him or her into the traffic. I’m not a mental health professional, but joking about something you hate but can’t do anything about must be listed somewhere as an indicator of emotional stress.

Keep in mind that these roads were built decades ago to handle local traffic and maybe some vacationers on their way to the Pocono Mtns. One lane in each direction, no shoulders, no sidewalks, no grassy right-of-way spaces. The difference between the store parking lot and the lane of traffic is about the size of your shoe.

Heading west on our way back to Missouri, we saw dozens of billboards pushing the propaganda messages.  “The New Green is Blue” with a blue gas flame prominently featured.  “Clean coal is the energy of the future, and it’s all RED, WHITE AND BLUE.”  (Cue the patriotic music.)

My own observation of what is happening to these small towns in NE Pennsylvania is the same as many others.  All over America, people are so desperate for jobs with enough income to live on that they are willing to work under any conditions, never complain and allow themselves to be dehumanized so gradually that they don’t notice how much their quality of life has been diminished.  It used to be that an educated or trained person could count on a good job with benefits.  Not any more.  Our Corporate Masters have enslaved us by eliminating our choice of occupation and power to bargain for better pay and working conditions.  

I saw several young women standing near cars and old pickups loaded with household goods.  These are the new Okies.  Families travel wherever they can find jobs, living out of their vehicles when necessary, hanging on to whatever shred of self respect they can muster.  This is what has been done to us over the last few decades, and it has been all planned out by the greedy bastards who don’t give a damn about small town folks or their communities.

I hope I live long enough to see the current rumblings of protest around the country erupt into an overthrow of corporate power.