WEEKENDER Column-Towanda Wanderings


I had occasion to visit Towanda Pa. the other day. Towanda was this bucolic, sleepy little town, about an hour Northwest of Wilkes-Barre. I say was, on purpose.

There is a scene in the “Blues Brothers” movie where Jake and Elwood Blues (John Belushi and Dan Akroyd) are in Elwood’s tiny one room apartment. The elevated train passes right outside the window, shaking the room violently. This exchange ensues:

Jake: How often does the train go by?
Elwood: So often that you won’t even notice it.

That is the feeling I got, spending a few hours sitting on the side of Rt. 6 where it passes through Towanda. The area is at the epicenter of Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling in Bradford County and looks, smells and sounds like the ninth circle of hell. A map of the area showing active wells looks like terminal measles in progress.

The huge, oddly shaped trucks carrying the mystery fluids shoved under incredibly high pressure into the ground are ubiquitous and scary. I counted several hundred in less than a morning. Most every other vehicle is support for the drilling. Large vehicles carrying large things to do large damage to the earth. The roads are a congested, ruined, mess.

A quick tour of the surrounding area with a local resident brought gasps from the native. A huge encampment of construction trailers, mountains of pipes, dozens of vehicles and men, spreading for acres across what was once a farmer’s field. “That wasn’t there two days ago,” our guide said.

Great gashes in the land, hundreds of feet wide cut into the trees and the hillsides ruin the look of the terrain. They are so numerous that the eye stops registering them. The local throws her hands up in the air. “Some landowners get rich. A few. The rest of us pay the price,” she said.

The frackers came to Dallas, where I live. They poked holes into the ground, sniffed deeply and left under cover of the night. Not enough gas to be worth it for them. Yet.

For, you see, ten or fifteen years ago Towanda wouldn’t have been worth it either. The price of gas and the technology caught up. Ten, twenty years from now expect to see them again, the frackers. This isn’t over yet by a long shot.

Take a ride along a peaceful country road in Lehman Township. Now. While you can.


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About James Rising

A recovering radio addict wrestles with the written word.
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