Chesapeake Energy is at the forefront of the fracking industry – using hydraulic fracturing to get natural gas out of shale.
The Oklahoma City based corporation has a big footprint in the Marcellus Shale region – including West Virginia.
And the company is philanthropic – up to a point.
Last year, Chesapeake donated $25,000 to the Farmers Market in Morgantown, West Virginia, but then withdrew the contribution after the city of Morgantown banned fracking within city limits.
Also last year, Chesapeake donated $30,000 for band instruments for the Wellsburg Middle School band, but then withdrew the donation after the city of Wellsburg voted to ban fracking within city limits.
To get the money back for the Middle School, the city rescinded the ban on fracking.
Rose Baker has lived all her life in Wetzel County, West Virginia.
She says that fracking by Chesapeake and other companies has turned her county from a quiet rural area into an industrial zone.
Baker says her quality of life has gone from a 10 to a 3.
Fracking increased big truck traffic, noise pollution, air pollution, night sky pollution and polluted the local drinking water supplies.
A couple of years ago, when Rose lost her best friend, Deb Henderson, to cancer, Rose started a foundation – Deb’s Gang of Hope – to raise money to support cancer victims.
According to Baker, Chesapeake Energy donated $2,500 to the foundation in 2009 and $2,000 to the foundation in 2010.
But then in 2011, Chesapeake stopped giving to Deb’s Gang of Hope.
“As I became more outspoken about fracking, they came to me and basically told me – if you don’t stop this, your group won’t get any more money,” Baker told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last week. “And we don’t get money from them anymore.”
Chesapeake’s Stacey Brodak said that the company gets “more requests than we can fund each year and must be good stewards of the dollars we have to grant. Therefore, we focus on areas where we have operations occurring.”
“Chesapeake did fund Deb’s Gang of Hope while we were active in their community” Brodak said. “When activity levels decrease, we often redirect funds to new areas. We also make efforts to spread these dollars around to different groups to have a broader impact on multiple agencies and groups.”
Baker has been traveling the Marcellus Shale region – West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania – with a slide show that dramatizes how Chesapeake and the other gas companies have turned Wetzel County from a rural area into an industrial zone.
And the politicians in West Virginia – Republicans and Democrats alike – are not helping.
Both parties are corrupt, Baker says.
Even President Obama, in his state of the union last week, indicated that he supported fracking.
But on the ground, people like Rose Baker do not.
While New York has put a moratorium on fracking, she doubts West Virginia will.
“The government is too greedy,” Baker said. “Our legislators think this is the greatest thing since fried chicken.”
And it doesn’t break down on Democrat or Republican lines?
“No,” Baker said. “They are both corrupted. It’s about greed. Obviously it is or we would have gotten stronger regulations at the special session back in November.”
“The Governor said he tweaked the bill and took all of the surface owner protections out of that bill. He feels that a trout stream is more important than my water well.”
How is that?
“He put in the bill that they can’t drill within 1,000 feet of a trout stream. But they can drill within 200 feet of my home.”
The industry is now pushing a measure in the state legislature called “forced pooling.”
“Let’s say that someone buys the mineral rights of the properties all around me,” Baker explains. “Then the government can come in and force me to sell to the fracking company.”
“We have that situation right here. There is a woman who lives here in Wetzel County – Marilyn Hunt. Chesapeake has leased all of the minerals around her 200 acre farm. But she will not lease her minerals to them. And they are just furious over this.”
How are they going to force her?
“If our legislators pass a law to allow for forced pooling, then she will be forced to lease her mineral rights to Chesapeake for a minimum price.”
Baker is one of ten brothers and sisters. She grew up with her family in Wetzel County. Her father was self-employed – he farmed and timbered his land.
“Now, things are different,” Baker says.
Baker can’t drink her well water. It’s polluted from the fracking. Her sister-in-law can’t drink her water or use the water to shower.
It too is polluted from fracking.
“Truck traffic is horrible.”
“We have a small farm here. We never used to hear any sort of noise. Now, you step outside and you hear the truck traffic. You hear the gas wells being flared. The flaring sounds like a jet engine. You hear the constant roar of diesel engines from these compressor stations. You smell the gas.”
“I used to ride my horses wherever I wanted to out here. Now, I can’t. There are so many places I can’t go because now there is a well pad, there is pipeline going in, there is the truck traffic.”
“Even on my little back road here it is not safe to ride my horses because I’ve been nearly hit several times with these truck drivers from Texas coming around the curve way too fast and almost hitting us.”
“The quality of life has just deteriorated completely. It is nothing like it was just five years ago.”
[For the complete q/a transcript of the Interview with Rose Baker, see 26 Corporate Crime Reporter 5(10), January 30, 2012, print edition only.]