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Fractured peace 

Family’s complaints about facility noise fall on deaf ears.

click to enlarge FED UP: Mark Cothren measures the noise coming from Frac Tech.
  • FED UP: Mark Cothren measures the noise coming from Frac Tech.

At 8 p.m. April 2, Mark Cothren stood on his front porch holding a decibel meter in one hand and a video camera in the other as a loud, compressor-like noise ripped through the night air. He's had enough of the noise coming from Frac Tech Services, an oil and gas services company located about 200 yards from his house, and decided to start documenting it.

Diesel tanker trucks enter the facility at all hours of the day, where they load and unload sand from tall silos. A maintenance facility performs repairs on fleet equipment.

Frac Tech began operating in 2007. Since then, Mark and Renell Cothren of Conway say their life has become a living nightmare. Noise from Frac Tech cuts through the trees behind the facility and bombards their house almost daily, up to hours at a time, sometimes even in the middle of the night. They can no longer open their windows or enjoy playing outside with their granddaughter. A home video taken on the front lawn before their son's prom is overwhelmed by intrusive, distracting noise.

The Cothrens turned to Conway and Faulkner County for help, but to no avail. The Cothrens live within the city limits; Frac Tech is in the county. Conway has a noise ordinance, but Faulkner County does not. And the idea of creating a county ordinance has been met with opposition from farmers and others.

Faulkner County Judge Preston Scroggin says even if the county could enact a noise ordinance, it would likely attract legal challenges the county could hardly afford to fight.

The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) does not regulate noise pollution. The Cothrens' state senator, Gilbert Baker, talked to Frac Tech representatives — but to no avail.

“We've talked to everybody we can and they say there's nothing we can do about it and that just doesn't make sense to me,” Mark Cothren says. “We don't want their money. We don't want to hurt their business. We just want things to go back to the way they were when we bought this house. We moved out here 17 years ago because it was away from all the noise and racket in town.”

Another family in the same subdivision has had enough. June Hagen, 80, and her son Greg, who is 35 and uses a wheelchair, are moving to get away from the noise.

“We hate to leave because we had such a hard time finding a house that was truly wheelchair accessible, and this house was just perfect,” June Hagen says. “We're putting the house up for sale, but I can't imagine anyone buying it. It's such a constant interruption.”

To give local officials an idea of what he and his wife have been going through, Cothren started to make videos and post them to the Internet website YouTube. His decibel meter often registers noise levels above 70 decibels (the equivalent of a vacuum cleaner). A 2006 Congressional Research Service report on noise abatement and control says that most people perceive unwanted sounds above 65 decibels as intrusive and exposure to such noise can impair one's quality of life.

Reached by phone, Frac Tech general counsel Sharon Hicks was surprised to learn that Cothren had used a decibel meter to measure the sound coming from the facility. She spoke to the Times again after watching the YouTube video and said the sound from the facility was not as loud as the decibel meter indicated.

In an e-mail, Hicks wrote, “While we take these matters very seriously, please be advised that the average radio and normal street noise is 70 dB, a vacuum cleaner is 70dB, a telephone dial tone is 80 dB and city traffic inside of a car is 85dB. The point is that there is no way to curb all sounds coming from the yard and many sound readings that are present at the Frac Tech yard are present in everyday life.”

However, most people expect to hear a vacuum when they're cleaning the house, not when they are trying to go to sleep or enjoy a picnic.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is an expert on noise. She has written journal articles and books on the adverse health effects of noise and has worked as a noise consultant for the last four mayors of New York. “You should be able to read in your home and not be intruded upon by the noise. You should be able to open a window. You should be able to sleep. You should be able to sit outside.” 

Hicks says the company would not be opposed to setting up a meeting between the family and Frac Tech district manager Dan Quick. The Cothrens say they are also willing to meet, but don't have much hope of a compromise.

“We have talked to Frac Tech several times and they have never even hinted that they cared or would try to do anything to remedy or reduce the noise,” Mark says. “I have no reason to think that they have suddenly had a change of heart.”

Right now the Cothrens are considering hiring a lawyer, a move they initially saw as their last resort. They say they're not after any money, just a resolution — and some peace and quiet.

To see Mark's YouTube Videos, visit our Shale Watch Blog at www.arktimes.com/blogs/shale.

 

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