By Keith Gushard
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.
A group of 60 calling itself the Northwest Pennsylvania Coalition to Protect the Environment rallied in observance of Earth Day to protest against oil and natural gas well fracking in Pennsylvania.
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.
Among its demands, the group said it wants DEP to put a moratorium on fracking, formally known as hydraulic fracturing.
In deep underground formations like the Marcellus and Utica shales, hydraulic fracturing uses high volumes of water mixed with chemicals and sand to fracture the underground rock formation, forcing oil and natural gas from the rock.
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.
Gary Clark, spokesman for DEP’s Meadville regional office, told the Tribune that the group “has never asked to meet with us about any of this. They have a right to protest, and they did it in an orderly manner.”