In our first few weeks with the Center for Coalfield Justice, the other three fellows and I had the opportunity to take some tours of Greene and Washington Counties to learn about coal and fracking in our communities, both historically and today. On our visits to Ryerson Station State Park, the coal patch town of Nemacolin, the Bailey Mine Prep Plant, and other stops, we learned about the complex relationship between extractive industries and our communities. Extraction has both been a cornerstone of our economy and devastated our landscape and the health and wellbeing of our communities.
Check out what each of the fellows had to say below:
“Ask most Pittsburghers where the largest active coal mining and processing facility in the U.S. is and most, myself included, wouldn’t know it’s about 50 miles away tucked into the hills of Greene and Washington Counties at the PA Mining Complex (PAMC). I was blown away by the scale of the operation, its six massive washing towers dominating the skyline, conveyor belts of coal snaking through the hills to feed it, a constant flow of trains carrying its product away. But the PAMC isn’t alone — with all its frack pads, pipelines, mines both active and abandoned, compressor stations, refuse piles, coal patches, and the dried up remains of Duke Lake, the landscape is simply dominated by extractive industries. In a valley with 500-foot-tall piles of coal tailings on one side, frack pads and compressor stations on the other, mines and pipelines underneath, and nonstop traffic from heavy machinery in transit on all sides, I felt like I got a glimpse of how claustrophobic and surrounded this otherwise sprawling, rural community truly is.”
“While I was aware of the presence of mining in southwest PA, I had no idea how large the operations are. The fact that one of the largest, if not the largest, longwall mining operations in the world is only an hour from my home was mind-boggling to me. And even if it isn’t the biggest one in the world, it is the biggest surrounded by a resident population who have experienced decades of damage to their infrastructure and environment because of it. Justice for those residents.”
“The tours from CCJ have helped me to identify what is going on in our communities. I did not know much about the coal and gas industry besides it being harmful, but now I know how and why. That is why I enjoyed the tours so much: for folks like me who don’t have knowledge of the oil and gas industry, it was easy to catch on, and Veronica was very helpful when explaining information. My favorite tour was of the water-purifying plant and learning how locals treat their water so it is safe for others to use. I feel every local person should have a tour around their community and surrounding areas because this does affect all of us.”
For my part, I share my colleagues’ astonishment at the scale of the operations we saw. It felt daunting to take in the scope of the industry. What can our small communities, already overburdened just by trying to make ends meet, do to protect ourselves against such a behemoth?
I was also struck by the close proximity of industry facilities to homes and places of worship. The image of the Serbian Orthodox church next to the shut-down Hatfield’s Ferry Power Station in Carmichaels stands out in my mind. So too does the cemetery near the Bailey Mine Prep Plant, the house just on the other side of the tree line when you drive down the road from the plant, and the mountainous slate dump beside the road just outside Nemacolin. When you live in the shadow of extraction, it’s all too easy to become desensitized to its impacts – it blends into the scenery. What other influences does it have that are hiding in plain sight?
I don’t have answers to these questions yet, but I’m glad that, working with CCJ, I can find out. These tours have highlighted for me the necessity of our work to ensure that our community’s voices are heard when critical decisions about our homes are made. I am energized and excited to dig in and fight for a safer, healthier, more just future for this region I call home. If you are too, join us at a future event to get involved! CCJ holds community meetings several times each year on the last Thursday of the month and we will be having our Fall Fundraiser: Party in the Park on August 20th from 6-9 p.m. You can check our Events page on the website or our Facebook events page for more information.