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WILDSpeak 2016: Karen Kasmauski
Families in Washington County, PA, including Karen and Gary Brockman from Midway Borough, are worried about their air quality, especially now that two of the largest facilities used to propel natural gas through pipelines in western PA (called compressor stations) have been built. Both of these facilities, which are owned by MarkWest Energy, loom over the Brockman’s carefully tended, rural property. Karen is concerned that air pollution from these large facilities will jeopardize the success of her husband Gary’s recent double lung transplant, a risky operation made necessary as a result of childhood asthma. Thanks to Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Network, they have both indoor and outdoor monitors on their property that automatically record air quality measurements. They may be forced to move should air quality diminish.
The International League of Conservation Photographers’ WILDspeak Symposium is right around the corner. Scheduled for November 15 & 16, 2016, in Washington, D.C., numerous presenters will be on hand to address how photography and video are impacting conservation efforts around the globe.
Former National Geographic photographer Karen Kasmauski will be part of a panel discussing “The Human Cost of Energy.” As a photographer, filmmaker, project manager and educator, she’s addressed many global health and global change issues. She examined the causes of infectious diseases in her book, “IMPACT: From the Front Lines of Global Health,” and explored global issues facing the nursing profession in her award-winning book, “NURSE: A World of Care,” which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
A massive impoundment is built next to the Guyer Well Pad, located in Mars Township, Butler County, and visible from the backyards of several newly constructed, high-end homes. Impoundments like these provide the water needed to frack wells, but they can also sometimes store wastewater that comes back to the surface once a well is fracked. Many impoundments in western PA have leaked into groundwater or spilled into surface waters, raising concerns about whether the state’s water resources are being adequately protected.
Earlier this year, as part of a conservation expedition conducted by the iLCP and its partner organization the Environmental Integrity Project, Kasmauski and fellow photographers traveled to Southwest Pennsylvania to document the impacts of fracking.
“I’ve worked on oil and gas issues for a long time,” she explains. “I started out in Appalachia doing this when I was a volunteer out of college. We looked at things like coal and oil development in the area. And it was at that point I saw the beginnings of how land and health are related.”
Trains carry endless tankers filled with oil and gas through residential neighborhoods, city centers and along country roads in western PA. They can sit on tracks for hours, one train backed up behind another. Often referred to as “bomb trains,” derailments can and have caused catastrophic consequences. Mt. Pleasant Township Washington County PA.
While on site in Pennsylvania, Kasmauski’s job was to document how fracking impacts families in the community. “It’s really about looking at conservation in the totality of communities and the land on which the communities exist,” she explains. “And even those who supported fracking for economic reasons, many of them were hesitant about what the actual health concerns could be, particularly with water tables and the air, and even the general disruption caused by giant trucks rolling through their communities.”
The owners of Durant Farm are one of the older and more influential families in this part of Washington Co. Two possible processing plants, one is on their grand-uncle’s property, which was sold by his wife to ETC and Mark West, are adjacent to their farm and could be both an eyesore and a health hazard. Pictured: Dan Duran bales hay on Father’s Day.
When she began working on this project, Kasmauski realized how her work has come full circle since her days of volunteer work in Appalachia. “Sadly, it’s not an issue that’s going away,” she says, “and I feel like you have to constantly be dealing with it, talking about it and bringing it forward.”
Kasmauski will be doing just that at this year’s WiLDspeak—A symposium on photography, conservation and communications, November 15 & 16, 2016, at Carnegie Institution for Science, 1530 P Street, NW Washington D.C. 20005.
Dr. Marsha Haley stands in front of a well pad slated to be fracked. This pad is located very close to residential homes and the Mars Township public schools.
To learn more about Karen Kasmauski, visit her website at www.kasmauski.com. For more information on the WILDSpeak Symposium, visit conservationphotographers.org/wildspeak2016.