Hundreds protest gas industry conference, proposed regulations
Opponents of a natural gas drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing — or more familiarly as “fracking” — have promised to “shut down” an October meeting of the Delaware River Basin Commission.
“You will not frack the Delaware River,” thundered Josh Fox, director of the documentary “Gasland,” which chronicled the environmental damage of fracking, as a crowd of hundreds outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center on Wednesday roared their agreement by chanting “shut them down.”
Opponents contend that fracking has polluted the air and groundwater and posed an environmental and health threat.
Hundreds of protestors threatened civil disobedience.
“If they’re going to start drilling, we’re going to shut them down,” Fox said, adding they planned a large scale protest modeled on civil rights protests.
The commission is expected to adopt natural gas drilling regulations at a specially scheduled meeting October 21 at its West Trenton, N.J., headquarters. The rules will regulate fracking at an estimated 22,000 gas wells in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware on land that drains into the Delaware River, which provides water to 15 million people in those four states — including 1.5 million in Philadelphia.
“The October 21 meeting will not include a public hearing,” stated a notice of the special meeting on its website.
The public — including two members of Philadelphia City Council and the president of Pittsburgh’s City Council — had plenty to say about it this week.
“If they tell you they are going to allow fracking in your watershed then it’s time to say, ‘You know what, we are taking a stand now,’” Fox shouted. “If they permit it anyway and we show up at the well sites and blockade the well sites, that’s the way we are going to win. That’s the way every single one of these struggles has been won from the suffragettes to the civil rights movement to labor unions. Every single advancement that was won in our civilization was won by one tool — civil disobedience.”
As Fox thundered and the crowd cheered, members of the Marcellus Shale Coalition gathered inside the convention center.
As industry officials slipped into the new main entrance on North Broad Street, protestors were corralled along both sides of Arch Street, nearly a block east at 13th Street. Approximately 1,600 industry officials were expected at the two day conference, which included appearances by Gov. Tom Corbett and former governors Tom Ridge, now a paid industry spokesman, and Ed Rendell.
One energy company official accused protestors of “fear mongering.”
“Was anybody hurt? Was there any permanent or even temporary environmental damage? No. No. And, no,” said Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy Corp.
Outside they disagreed.
Craig Sautner of Dimock in Susquehanna County warned of the possibility of a large scale natural disaster. He spoke from personal experience. Three years ago his well was poisoned by fracking and he now has to get his drinking water and water for showering and cleaning shipped in by the natural gas company.
“Here’s what my water looks like,” said Sautner, holding up a glass that looked more like it was filled with cloudy beer. “They were doing vertical drilling and something collapsed and all the gas migrated. Now, the gas company said that they did not cause the problem. Enough already. We’ve got to do something about this.”
Many Philadelphians view the issue as an upstate one, but stories like Sautner’s have galvanized City Council, which, earlier this year supported a moratorium on drilling.
“Anything that happens in Allegheny County or Centre County, anything happens in Bradford County, it also affects what happens in Philadelphia County,” said Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, who called the issue a public health issue. “We get it.”
She promised her support and urged others to join the chorus against drilling.
“It takes collective voices to move the needle,” Brown said. “We can’t do it alone. It takes all of us to send a message.”