Photos by Bill Allen
Western PA Activists
Deliver ‘Street Heat’ vs.
Marcellus Shale ‘Frackers’
By Carl Davidson
Beaver County Blue
“No Fracking Way! No Fracking Way!” was the chant resounding off the steel, granite and glass walls in downtown Pittsburgh on the sunny afternoon on Nov. 3, as nearly 500 environmental activists headed for the David Lawrence Convention Center. Their target was a gathering of 2000 natural gas drillers being addressed by Karl Rove, advisor to former President George W Bush.
Inside, the industry executives were meeting to discuss the “future” of hydro-fracking gas drilling and planning to use heavy explosives to blast apart the 4000-foot-deep Marcellus Shale formation to get the natural gas beneath.
“Only a dying soul,” said Stephen Cleghorn, “can contemplate the destruction of life that they’re discussing in that building right now!” Cleghorn is Reynoldsville, PA farmer, and his views reflected those of many semi-rural residents of Pennsylvania and other nearby states, where water was polluted and cattle died.
“They promise people all sorts of money,” said Bob Schmetzer, “but what’s your home worth if you have bad water? Nothing!” Schmetzer, carrying a placard demanding ‘prosecute the polluters,’ is the council president of South Heights in Beaver County, and the vice president of the 4th CD Progressive Democrats of America.
The Marcellus Shale is a geological formation underlying Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland and West Virginia. It contains vast amounts of natural gas, recently made accessible by the new technology of ‘hydraulic fracking.’ The method involves deep drilling, then pumping large amounts of water laced with toxic chemicals down to the shale, where it explodes. The released gas is then brought to the surface, along with most of the water, now in the form of toxic brine
Under optimum conditions and with strict regulation and safeguards, ‘fracking’ can produce gas, with relative safety to workers and the environment. Even this is disputed by many who claim the longer term effects have yet to be measured, that optimum conditions are rarely met, and that greed often trumps safety regulations in the field.
The recently broadcast documentary film ‘Gasland’, moreover, has exposed enough cases of polluted waterways, gas flames coming of household water spigots, outbreaks of cancers and dead farm animals to have spurred wide concern. The protest at the natural gas drillers meeting at the convention center was only the tip of the iceberg of the new emerging social movement brought together Nov. 3 by MarcellusProtest.org, a network of several dozen groups focused on the issue.
Josh Fox, maker of the film Gasland, spoke at the rally at the convention center once the march through the streets had concluded. He was introduced by Mel Packer of the Green Party, and got huge cheers from the crowd as he told the story of a father in a hydro-fracking region whose two sons got frequent nose bleeds from hydro-fracking-associated toxins. “We are here for that family!” said Fox, as he then took his mobile phone from the podium and called Governor-elect Tom Corbett, a gas industry favorite, Fox told the governor that “we, the people of Pennsylvania, joined by our allies, demand an end to hydro-fracking gas drilling!” He then held his phone out to the crowd, who resumed chanting, “No Fracking Way!”
Several musicians took the stage, including Mike Stout, writer and performer of ‘The Tale of Marcellus shale,’ and Justin Sane of the punk band ‘Anti-Flag.’ Sane shared a special song he wrote for the occasion entitled, “Gasland Terror,” in which he equated the gas industry with terrorists bombing the homeland.
City Councilman Doug Shields and State Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, also took part in the protest. “I’m glad to see everyone come out,” Shields said, who has been leading effort against drilling within the city limits. “It really comes down to the people and what they’re ready to tolerate. And it appears some people are not willing to tolerate drilling in the city.” Residents from West Virginia, Western Maryland, and New York sent small delegations as well.