Hundreds March Through Center City to Protest Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling
By Ada Kulesza
Across the street from the Convention Center, where suits from the natural-gas industry were holding their national conference, a number of beards and T-shirts held a conference of their own—a press conference, that is, preceding an anti-gas protest that spanned the block of Arch Street between 13th and Broad.
Led by Iris Marie Bloom of Protecting Our Waters, who organized the Marcellus Shale Gas Outrage protest and is calling for a moratorium on drilling in the shale, the press conference was the Philly media’s first chance to meet the people who’ve been saying for some time now that natural-gas drilling has tainted their water. They’re the people, Bloom says, “who have seen their animals die” during a “public health disaster in the making… of massive proportions.”
An organic farmer, Dr. Stephen Cleghorn of Jefferson County in North Central Pennsylvania, said that half the Commonwealth’s landmass is targeted for drilling over the next 50 years. He called hydraulic fracturing, the process of injecting a cocktail of water, sand and chemicals to break the shale and release the gas “a systematic underground carpet bombing of the shale.”
“Just two wells can inject enough petroleum distillates to contaminate more than the water that New York State uses in a day,” he continued. “We are going to poison the aquifers of half of this state, and when it gets to the surface it’s going to come down the river to Philadelphia.”
Susan Breese of Susquehanna County said that soon after drilling started in her neighborhood, her water has gone bad, with Department of Environmental Protection tests showing high levels of the metals barium and strontium in the water. She drinks from a spring near her house, she said, but she uses the tainted water to bathe and clean. She’s filed a lawsuit against the gas company.
Ron Gulla, of Hickory, Pa., spoke for Terry Greenwood, whose cows started giving birth to stillborns soon after his water turned. Gulla held up a picture of a dead cow with completely white eyes. “Where’s your meat coming from?” he asked.
And Craig Sautner of Dimock, Pa., who spoke at the protest, said it’s been three years since their water was contaminated. “It’s a tragedy that is unfolding across the state,” he said.
Behind the Convention Center windows, the suits bemusedly took photos with their phones of the protesters who filled the sidewalks below, as speakers took the podium, including Josh Fox, the director of the documentary Gasland, State Rep. Kenyatta Johnson (D-Philadelphia), City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown and City Councilman Curtin Jones Jr.
The protest marched to Gov. Corbett’s office in Center City to deliver a letter written by Kimberlie McEvoy from Butler County. She wrote that her water tests show arsenic, manganese and ammonia in her water, and that her family “can’t play outside without getting a headache or a sore throat.”
At the end of the letter, she wrote, “It’s not right to allow the gas companies to gamble with our lives.”