Yesterday was Earth Day, and to mark the occasion the Green Party of Pennsylvania - in partnership with over 60 other environmental organizations - held protest rallies at all six regional offices of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection across the state. The protests centered around a list of five demands, most of which relate to fracking, the commonly used term for hydraulic fracturing which is a process used to extract natural gas that involves drilling as far as 10,000 feet underground and injecting millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals to pressure rock into cracking and releasing the gas.
• Appoint an environmental expert without industry ties as DEP Secretary to ensure DEP’s mission is fulfilled;For further context on the first demand, check out this article and this article which detail the gas industry ties of current PA DEP Secretary Michael Krancer and this article on the larger problem of fracking industry influence on Pennsylvania politics.
• Place a moratorium on permits for gas wells, compressor stations, pipelines, water withdrawals, coal mines, and other infrastructure related to fossil fuel extraction;
• Allow no more toxic secrets and full disclosure of water tests and other studies by DEP;
• Provide justice for those harmed by the oil and gas industry; and
• Reopen the DEP Office of Energy and Technology Deployment to develop solar, wind and other renewable energy technologies.
The protesters' demands are solidly in keeping with Article I Section 27 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which reads as follows:
Natural Resources and the Public EstateHere are excerpts of local coverage of the protests, with any bolding added by yours truly.
The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania's public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.
Starting with the PA DEP Northcentral Regional Office in Williamsport:
"It has taken years to find out (that) some of the chemicals used in the gas drilling process contain radioactive elements," said Lynne Whelden, of Canton.Green Party of Pennsylvania protest rally on Earth Day in Williamsport, PA / photo from Williamsport Sun-Gazette
While Whelden said he isn't against the men and women who work in the industry and doesn't blame them, he said its impact is all encompassing, from the glow at night from wells flaring to (potential) damage done to drinking and bathing water.
"Many gas wells are too close to the residential areas," he said. "Wells are all around us," he said. "The tunnels are under our water supply in the rock formation, which is ripe for infiltration."
A lack of precise answers of the toxic makeup in fracking water has bothered Nancy Shipley, of Cogan Station. "I get most upset about the inability to find out what toxic chemicals are used in hydraulic fracking," she said.
Jeff and Tina Richardson said they live near the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon outside of Wellsboro. The couple claimed that gas drilling damaged their water supply. The damage occurred, they claim, because of an "unrepaired" gas well and impedes their ability to shower and do laundry, which they do nearby, but not at their house.
Despite the gas industry providing fresh drinking water for the Richardsons, the couple doesn't feel safe with the well so close by.
Some of the banners on display were representative of the alleged impact of gas well drilling on nature. Among them was "The River of Life," an exhibit from Lewisburg that served as both community art and a warning.
The drawings include pictures of fowl, fish and aquatic life living along or in the river, according to Nancy Cleaver, who brought the material to the protest.
The protesters said the natural gas industry influenced the DEP to the point where it’s no longer effective.Moving to the PA DEP Northwest Regional Office in Meadville:
“We don’t feel protected by DEP today. By the laws, as the gas industry says, as per Pennsylvania law, this is what we have to do. PA law, we’ve realized now, does not protect citizens in PA,” said Jeffrey Richardson of Tioga County.
The Earth Day protest against fracking shared its concerns with folks at this DEP office.
While chanting “DEP, can’t you see you’re the case of all this misery?” and “No fracking way,” a crowd marched peacefully from Diamond Park down Chestnut Street on Monday while carrying a coffin to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s northwest regional office in Meadville.Green Party of Pennsylvania protest rally on Earth Day in Meadville, PA / photo from Meadville Tribune
It drew people from 10 northwestern Pennsylvania counties: Crawford, Erie, Butler, Clarion, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, McKean, Mercer and Venango. However, the group didn’t draw any DEP representatives out of the building.
“I’m an organic farmer and I believe this will put me out of business,” Maggie Henry said of fracking. Henry owns an 88-acre farm in Beaver Township, Lawrence County, with her husband. “I believe this will contaminate my soil, my air and my water.”
Group members carried a coffin to symbolize the potential death of Pennsylvania’s environment and agriculture due to what they see are the dangers of shale gas extraction.
Henry admits there have been no environmental problems with her property, but she believes hydraulic fracturing will cause environmental problems for her farm.
“There’s been one well drilled — it’s 4,100 feet from my property, but there’s a permit for eight wells on that well pad.”
Brian Anderson, a senior at Meadville’s Allegheny College and a member of Allegheny College Students for Environmental Action, said fracking has become a topic on campus since the college was approached last summer about leasing its 283-acre nature reserve in Crawford County for natural gas extraction.
“We find this to be against the ethics of our college because Allegheny College has made a commitment to environmental stewardship and pledged to become climate neutral by 2020,” Anderson said. “Leasing college land for natural gas extraction is a direct impediment to the goals of the college.”
Stephen Cleghorn, an organic farmer from Jefferson County, said DEP has failed to protect Pennsylvania citizens.
“We are here today because DEP has betrayed its trust and failed to exercise its constitutional responsibilities,” Cleghorn said. He called on people to resist peacefully and for workers at the Department of Environmental Protection to release information about oil and gas industry drilling activities.
More than fifty protesters hit the streets of Meadville to celebrate Earth Day and fight against the controversial gas drilling process, known as fracking.From the PA DEP Southeast Regional Office in Norristown:
People are genuinely concerned about their health and safety and how they could be affected by fracking. They wanted to voice their concerns today to the Department of Environmental Protection to let officials know that they do not want fracking to come to their area.
Marchers say they wanted to get their point across about how dangerous they believe fracking is, by carrying a coffin, symbolizing how Pennsylvania's environment, agriculture and tourism will be destroyed if the DEP allows fracking to come to the area.
Protesters say they are very disappointed in the DEP. Today's Earth Day protest is just the beginning of a long fight for those against fracking.
People from Butler, Mercer, Jefferson, Erie, Crawford counties and beyond came out to the protest.
Rush-hour traffic zipped by them. The chilly wind blew through them. But that did not prevent some 30 determined environmentalists and conservationists from bringing their battle against “fracking,” a controversial drilling process using pressurized fluids to bring natural gas to the surface, to the streets of downtown Norristown in time for Monday’s Earth Day.Green Party of Pennsylvania protest rally on Earth Day in Norristown, PA / photo from Rick Kintzel of PhillyBurbs.com
“I am here to show my support for clean air, clean water in Pennsylvania, in the United States and the world,” said David F. Ochmanowicz Jr., a Quakertown resident and chairman of the Bucks County Green Party.
While fracking has not come to Montgomery County, “everything travels downstream and it is only a matter of time before our water supplies become contaminated and affect generations to come,” maintained Elkins Park resident Emily Cook, who heads the Montgomery County Green Party....Green Party of Pennsylvania protest rally on Earth Day in Norristown, PA / photo from Rick Kintzel of PhillyBurbs.com
One of those speaking during the two hour “open mic” event in Norristown was Dr. Walter Tsou, the county health department’s former medical director and a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility of Philadelphia.
Tsou called on DEP to engage in “serious scientific studies” to determine the “real impact” fracking has on the health and public safety of the community. Too often, those who suffer from health problems that they believe are the result of fracking “are silenced” because they fear remedial work will not be done if they go public with their symptoms, according to Tsou.
Midway through the Earth Day protest, about six protesters carried multiple petitions containing more than 250 signatures into the DEP’s lobby for delivery to the regional director. The petitions called for an immediate ban on fracking.The protesters also have presented DEP with a list of “five demands,” according to Chris Robinson, a member of the Philadelphia Green Party’s City Committee. ... “We are here to demand that DEP get back on track, doing what it is supposed to do and that is protecting our air, land and water from pollution and to protect the health and safety of its citizens through a clean environment,” said Robinson.Green Party of Pennsylvania protest rally on Earth Day in Norristown, PA / photo from Rick Kintzel of PhillyBurbs.com
From the PA DEP Southwest Regional Office in Pittsburgh:A small but determined group of people gathered outside the DEP office, to call for a moratorium on fossil fuel extraction, a new secretary committed to the environment and an end to secrecy surrounding fracking operations in Pennsylvania. Walter Tsou with Physicians for Social Responsibility talked about the harm shale drilling is doing to people.Green Party of Pennsylvania protest rally on Earth Day in Norristown, PA / photo from CBS Philly
“I talked with many people who have had their water contaminated, who have their hands with dermatitis, skin rashes, people with GI symptoms, all due to the fact that they live in proximity to gas wells where they have been effected by the water and the air pollution that has occurred directly from fracking,” said Tsou.
Tsou says shale industry claims no one has been harmed, however, there are over 900 people nationwide that have been injured from the industry and the water contamination which follows.
Sandy Folzer of Protecting Our Waters says she was circulating a petition over the weekend in Center City, and spoke to one couple about the issue.
“I asked them if they knew what fracking was, and they said ‘Oh we know what fracking is. We’re from Oklahoma, and we have no clean water. We cannot drink our water and all the dogs in our area are dying because they drink the tap water’,” said Folzer.
And from the PA DEP Northeast Regional Office in Wilkes-Barre:Demonstrators came by boat and bike trail to Washington's Landing on the Allegheny River Monday, loudly protesting what they said was the state Department of Environmental Protection's failure to adequately regulate fossil fuel industries, including Marcellus Shale gas, or support renewable energy development.Green Party of Pennsylvania protest rally on Earth Day in Pittsburgh, PA / photo from Bob Donaldson of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The float, march and rally, which was billed as an "Earth Day protest against fracking," ended with most of the 75 participants crowded into the lobby of the DEP's Southwest Regional office on the island, where they asked to speak with Susan Malone, the regional director. The protest was one of six planned at DEP regional offices around the state Monday by a coalition of more than 60 environmental and citizens groups.
"This is the first time there's ever been a coordinated, grass-roots effort of people standing up and saying, 'Make it our DEP,' " said Patrick Young, the protest's coordinator and a leader of the Shadbush Environmental Justice Collective.
Mr. Young was in one of nine kayaks and canoes that paddled down the river from the Millvale Riverfront Park to the Three Rivers Heritage bike trail, just below Washington's Landing. There the boaters were joined by the other protesters, including the 10-piece May Day Marching Band, that had walked up the bicycle trail, for the march over the bicycle bridge and onto the island.
"We all live downriver from somewhere, and what happens upriver affects my water quality here," said Mike Cornell, who paddled a canoe to the protest and carried a sign that read, "Allegheny Armada for Clean Water."David and Linda Headley told the crowd the DEP had done nothing to protect their 115-acre farm in Springhill, Fayette County, from four shallow gas wells and a deep Marcellus Shale gas well drilled on their land without a lease because they didn't own the gas rights under the property.Green Party of Pennsylvania protest rally on Earth Day in Pittsburgh, PA / photo from Bob Donaldson of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"The water is poisoned, the air is polluted and the soil is contaminated," Mr. Headley said. "You can light our spring water on fire. Our doctors have told us to move away."
Ms. Headley said she, her husband and young son have had myriad health problems -- sore throats, sinus infections, coughing, joint pain, bleeding gums and hair loss. The DEP has been to the farm two dozen times, she said, but written only three or four citations.
"We're getting sick, and the DEP inspectors keep saying give the drilling companies a chance," she said, shaking her head. "But who's going to give us a chance?"
I did not find any local reports about the rally at the PA DEP Southcentral Regional Office in Harrisburg, but if anyone knows of any please alert me on Twitter @ProgPatriotPA or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will update this blog to include them.On Public Square, protesters remembered Earth Day singing songs about the Susquehanna and listing demands for more responsible resource development.Green Party of Pennsylvania protest rally on Earth Day in Wilkes-Barre, PA / photo from The Sunday Dispatch
The Green Party of Pennsylvania, an organization that says it promotes transparent government and ecological balance, brought together about 45 people opposing hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to challenge the state Department of Environmental Protection’s commitment to its namesake — environmental protection.
“I’m very suspect of this toxic soup … creating a chemically induced earthquake,” Green Party member Carl Romanelli said of the rock-breaking technique that uses water mixed with additives sent through the rock at high pressure.
Chemical additives make up only about 2 percent of fracturing-water solutions depending on geology; however, a few million gallons of solution might be used at a single well during its lifetime.
Developing technology now allows much of the flowback, about 90 percent of it that rushes back up the drill hole, to be recycled and used again. Drillers who recycle need to draw less fresh water from local sources if they recycle. Still, much of it is lost deep in the Marcellus.
Some protesters waved their signs toward the DEP’s regional office along Public Square.
At the protest ... speakers said the United States is far behind the German and Danish energy solutions that exemplify how this country should seek non-fossil-fuel energy sources. The two countries are working toward renewable, environmentally benign energy sources and making great strides, they said. Denmark meets almost half of its energy needs with wind power, and Germany, a generally cloudy country with only about 13 million citizens, uses more solar panels than the entire United States, home to about 300 million citizens.
Diane Drier, a member of the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition, said that for United States to stay abreast of developing energy sources, it must develop non-fossil-fuel solutions.
“The past belongs to fossil fuels. The future belongs to renewable energy,” Drier said.
Jay Sweeney, a committee chair member of the Green Party, made the group’s opinion of fracking clear when he addressed the department.
“DEP, we’re willing to work with you to achieve these goals. But we’re not willing to work with you to continue fracking.” he said.