Butler County, Pennsylvania
Trilliums blooming at Wolf Creek Narrows.
Lakevue beach at Moraine State Park.
Kayaking on Lake Arthur, Moraine State Park.
These two images are what used to be... where the hay bale sat in now a drill site.
Butler County has been recognized for its bounty since the time when Native Americans walked great "Kittanning Path" westward from Philadelphia to Kittanning. Later, when white settlers, traversed from the forks of the Ohio (the site of Pittsburgh) to Venango (Franklin) they did so through unbroken forests and wild solitude where they witnesses an almost unimaginable variety of game and wild animals, such as deer, bears, snowshoe hares, mountain lions, bobcats, bison, elk, gray wolves and foxes which at that time abounded. They walked along crystal clear streams with plentiful fish and frequent sightings of minks, beavers and river otters. They ate venison, bear meat, squirrel, rabbit, wild turkey, and fish. They baked corn bread over an open fire. They ate from the plentiful supplies of wild fruits and berries. They drank water from bubbling springs.
Butler County has changed over the years. Settlements grew in to towns, and towns into cities. Small family farms cropped up and have been in families for generations. Butler County’s climate and rich soil make it a perfect spot enjoy locally grown strawberries, blueberries, apples, corn, potatoes and dairy. At one point in time Butler County was known as the Buckwheat County. Now it is home to PA Simply Sweet onions and a variety of organic farms. Sample some of the best locally made ice cream in the state. Indulge yourself with cotton candy, candied apples, funnel cakes, or hot sausage sandwiches. Treat yourself to some locally produced marinara sauce, maple syrup, buckwheat pancakes, smoked meats, chocolates, milk, and jams. Butler County is a place where maple sugaring and hay rides are not just gimmicks to draw in tourist (although you’ll welcome to visit) but central to who we are and how were raise our families. It’s no surprise that up until 2008 agriculture was Butler County’s primary economic activity bring over $400 million a year in the area.
Within its 795 square miles, Butler has preserved many rural areas for the enjoyment of those seeking recreation and sport. Recently, tourism has emerged as Butler County’s most profitable business sector. Visitors spend more than $500 million annually in Butler County and 10% of those that spend the night are international visitors. 44,000 campers visit our 10 campgrounds between May and September. Each year, over one million people visit Moraine State Park. The Park includes Lake Arthur, the states largest man-made lake. It was made on reclaimed land that had ravished by coal mining and oil and gas drilling practices. Another 167,000 visitors (including 280 schools and 11 colleges and universities) get to experience the endangered flora and fauna of Jennings Nature Reserve where you will find Pennsylvania's only relict prairie. Audubon has two facilities in Butler County; Todd Nature Reserve and the Succop Conservancy.
And is it any surprise? Butler County is home to hundred of miles of hiking trails (including 45 miles of the North County Trail with 15 miles along the banks of Lake Arthur), miles of biking trails, and countless miles of shorelines. Butler County offers more golf courses per capita than most areas of the country. On any given weekend in you will find canoeing, sailing, power boating, kayaking, wind surfing, fishing, picnicking, miniature golf, swimming, craft fairs, flea markets, fairs, parades, car cruises, four-wheeling, dirt-track racing, organized sports for youth, airplane rides, 5K races, farm shows, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, ice fishing, ice boating, snowmobiling, sledding, French & Indian and Civil War re-enactments, birding, geo-caching, photography, visits to wineries and breweries, day spas, and outdoor concerts.
Unfortunately, the outdoor heritage of Butler is changing quickly. The industrial process known as High-Volume Slickwater Horizontal Hydraulic Fracturing, or fracking, is endangering our health, our rights, and the long-term sustainability of our major economies.
This industrialization is not limited to small corners of the county. Under the protective shield of recent state legislation that overrides local municipalities from writing their own zoning laws drilling and its related infrastructure must be allowed anywhere, even in residential districts. House Bill 1950 § 3304 mandates that local ordinances regulating oil and gas operations “must authorize oil and gas operations…as a permitted use in all zoning districts” and “must authorize natural gas compressor stations as a permitted use in agricultural and industrial zoning districts and as a conditional use in all other zoning districts.” In regards to large industrial processing plants, the law states that municipalities “must authorize natural gas processing plants as a permitted use in an industrial zoning district and as a conditional use in agricultural zoning districts.”
Butler has also been targeted as the site for six natural gas processing plant within a four mile radius that engulfs Forward, Jackson, and Lancaster Townships. Each of the plants will emit an estimated maximum of 95 tons of carbon monoxide per year, which is 5 percent below the state's threshold for major pollution sources, like a steel mill or a food processing plant. This has allowed the Colorado-based company to get permits as minor polluters for two plants, with four others pending review. All of the plants have the same owner and, whether it was their intent or nor, by dividing their operations into 6 different locations, they were able to skirt aspects of the permitting process to get them built and will be under less stringent inspections once they become operational.
In October of 2011 a well was drilled on a Butler County dairy and farm by a Texas based firm with apparent interest in shipping liquefied gas to China. According to the dairy’s website, they provide milk to 2500 schools, hospitals, restaurants and other businesses are served as well.
October of 2011 also saw Butler’s first Utica shale well on a farm nestled in the woods by McConnell’s Mill State Park, located in neighboring Lawrence County. The farm hosts weddings, a fall pumpkin festival, hayrides, and one of the best attended haunted houses in the county. It also operates Breakneck Campground on its land.
One of the permitted plants is operating on a cliff over Connoquenessing Creek and Misty Hollows Farms. The other is being construction less than a mile and a half from the largest secondary school campus in the county where over 3,000 students attend grades 7-12 every day. It is also the home of the district’s athletic fields and stadium. The proposed site for another plant is just over one and half miles from another school campus. The Evans City School, home to over 1,100 students grades K-6, sits in a valley downwind from the proposed site. It is also the location of athletic fields, playgrounds, a nature trail, and an outdoor classroom for environmental education.
All of this activity has clogged the roads of our little communities. For each well drilled there is an average of 592 truck trips just to supply water to the site. Those trucks average between 80,000-100,000 lbs. per truck. The increased traffic is a nuisance to drivers, bikers, pedestrians, and a notable pollution source. One woman describes it like this “My quaint and once quiet country home is now being invaded by the rumbles of constant truck traffic and the smell of toxins released when the wells flare. It feels like I'm living next to an airport.”
Her community, called the Woodlands, is right off a winding road that is designated as Washington’s Trail, the route that young George Washington used in 1753. He went on the mission to delivery a message to the French to leave the area. She and her neighbors have been experiencing water problems since drilling started on farm near their homes. The water has been black, purple, foaming, and foul smelling. Tests have shown levels of arsenic, toluene, and benzene. Their story has been covered by Voice of America, Protecting Our Waters, and the ABC affiliate in Pittsburgh. Members of the community have written to the governor with no reply. Their township supervisors, state representatives, the Department of Environmental Protection, and the drilling company have all ignored their plight.