This is part of a Moms Clean Air Force series about the health impacts of methane:
Vanessa Lynch, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania
“In Pennsylvania, 1.5 million people live within half a mile of an active oil or gas facility. 300,000 students attend schools and day cares within a half mile of an oil and gas facility.”
When Vanessa Lynch’s husband was leaving the Navy, the couple decided to come home to Allegheny County, where Vanessa grew up. In fact, Vanessa’s family has lived in the area for five generations.
They found a home in Indiana Township, about 20 minutes outside Pittsburgh. They loved that their new tree-lined neighborhood was close to the city and had lots of green spaces with a creek for their daughter and son to play in. Vanessa’s children, now teenagers, grew up walking to school and playing soccer and softball in the park near their home.
Like many people, Vanessa didn’t think much about fracking, until one day when she saw a notice about a community meeting that advocates and residents posted on Facebook. Vanessa learned that gas wells were being proposed in her residential neighborhood near houses, children, parks, day care centers, assisted living centers, and schools. She and her neighbors had not been aware of any of this.
Vanessa attended the meeting and learned the Indiana Township Board of Supervisors had already approved permits for eight gas wells. Determined to educate herself more about the impacts of oil and gas operations, she attended additional meetings Moms Clean Air Force held for the community. She learned that oil and gas operations can emit climate-warming methane and a cocktail of harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs), like benzene, that are known to be harmful to health. Those who are in close proximity to oil and gas operations are more likely to experience adverse birth outcomes, heart disease, cancers, asthma attacks, and respiratory problems than those who live farther away.
Armed with the facts, Vanessa spoke up to express her concerns about the impacts of the oil and gas industry’s pollution on children’s health, especially for her son, who had a history of breathing problems. Vanessa and other community members continued to show up at the municipality meetings to express their concerns about permitting polluting industrial activity in residential zones.
For two years, Vanessa and her neighbors pushed the Board of Supervisors to update their zoning ordinance to be more protective of the community and to place oil and gas operations farther away from homes and schools.
“We had community members with various expertise working together to help protect our community from the impacts of oil and gas operations.”
Vanessa and her neighbors raised awareness within the community by holding educational meetings, speaking to media, meeting with elected officials, and attending municipal meetings: “We presented facts and clear information that was true and well-researched. Even though we were unable to stop the gas wells from being fracked in our community, we were successful in getting the board of Supervisors to adopt a more protective local ordinance that only allows oil and gas operations in specific areas.”
Before the new ordinance, 95% of the land was available for oil and gas operations. Now, after the change that Vanessa helped win, only 14% of the land is available for oil and gas operations. This inspired Vanessa to join Moms Clean Air Force as a Pennsylvania state coordinator. Vanessa uses her experience to help neighboring communities advocate for protections from oil and gas operations.
“Under Pennsylvania state law, local municipalities have to allow oil and gas operations somewhere, but it doesn’t have to be allowed everywhere. Local governments have the power to protect communities through local ordinances and zoning.”
Vanessa believes that every level of government–local, state, and federal–must do more to protect families. In addition to the large-scale gas operations, there are thousands of small, leak-prone wells that dot the rural and suburban landscapes across Pennsylvania. These low-producing wells contribute an outsize amount of heat-trapping methane pollution in our air, accelerating climate change while putting the health and safety of nearby communities at risk. Together with other moms across the country, Vanessa is urging EPA to pass a strong rule to curtail methane and other harmful pollutants from oil and gas operations.
Vanessa and her husband sometimes talk about the contrast of the sacrifices he made in the Navy to protect our country and how difficult it can be to get commonsense protections for families from air pollution and climate change. “My children’s health and future is priceless. This is why I will continue to advocate for protecting children from oil and gas pollution.”