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300 Philadelphians — and Homeland Security — Attend GASLAND Screening; Susquehanna River Bubbling With Gas

September 8, 2010

Over three hundred Philadelphians, likely joined by observers alerted by the Department of Homeland Security, sat soberly through a September 3rd screening of the documentary film GASLAND.  The film, vivid and disturbing, studies impacts on human health, animal health and the environment – especially water quality – from unconventional gas drilling in shale deposits across the country, including Pennsylvania.

Multinational companies, including Hess, Chesapeake Energy, and others want to begin drilling as soon as possible in the Delaware River watershed.  With enormous pressure from these corporations, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) is now being pushed to fast-track its set of rules for drilling in order to start giving permits within the next few months, long before any cumulative impacts study has a chance to be performed by the EPA, by independent scientists, or even by the DRBC itself.  The next meeting of the DRBC on this issue is September 15th.

After the film, a dedicated hundred remained to listen to a 10 PM panel of speakers including filmmaker Josh Fox and PA State Representative Tony Payton, whose district includes parts of Philadelphia.  Payton has introduced a bill for a three-year statewide moratorium on new gas drilling permits.  “This would really put a hold on, so we can protect public health and the environment,” Payton commented.  “But,” he told the audience, “your state representatives and senators need to hear from you about this!”

State Senator Ferlo and State Representative Phyllis Mundy have each sponsored resolutions, with many co-sponsors, for a one-year moratorium based on the complete absence of emergency safety planning in Marcellus Shale areas.  Asked about the difference, Payton reflected that a three-year hold on new drilling permits would give more time to study the impacts on public health, land, water, state forests, air, climate, and the potential net loss to the Pennsylvania economy from long-term cumulative drilling impacts.  Clean Water Action is sponsoring a statewide lobby day on September 21st on the set of issues raised by gas drilling’s threats to clean water.

Philadelphia City Council has called for a public hearing on the environmental and economic impacts of unconventional gas drilling in the Delaware River watershed, which supplies 100% of Philadelphia’s drinking water.  The hearing will be held in late September.  However, despite the high level of public concern, an insider observed last week, “Most City Council members haven’t heard from constituents about this yet.”

Susquehanna River Bubbles with Methane Gas

The Susquehanna River began bubbling with gas last week.  Right now scientists from the PA Department of Environmental Protection are just beginning to study samples taken last week from the Susquehanna River, which began bringing gas bubbles to the surface.  Shale gas drilling operations have begun within two miles of the river, according to Chesapeake Energy, a multinational drilling company based in Oklahoma which is now drilling in many locations in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale.  Local residents, including an engineer named Don Palmer, interviewed by WNEP TV, Channel 16, for their 6 pm news segment last Friday, were deeply concerned.  “We don’t know the ramifications of this. All we know is that gas coming out of the river is explosive,” said Don Palmer, who lives along the river in Sugar Run.

Shale gas drilling, also called “unconventional gas drilling” or fracking in combination with horizontal drilling, brings methane to the surface by fracturing the deep shale layer, a mile and more under the surface, using about 20,000 pounds of toxic chemicals mixed with 2 to 9 million gallons of fresh water – typically about 4 million gallons – per frack, per well.  Horizontal drilling can extend the vertically drilled well over a mile, and even two miles, horizontally deep underground.  The extreme pressure created by the high-volume water, chemical, and sand mixture fractures the 300 million year old rock, which contains natural gas – methane – in its many cracks.  So far, ProPublica has documented over 1000 instances of water contamination due to fracking.

Neighbors concerned about the gas bubbles in the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, in Bradford County, shared other concerns with WNEP as well.  In the past few weeks they’ve been having to replace their water filters much more often.  “I’m an engineer by trade and I believe in cause and effect relationships,” said Palmer. “We didn’t have this problem until they started the drilling about a mile up river and I find it hard to believe that it’s not related.”

The Center for Healthy Environments and Communities, out of Graduate School of Public Health (Pittsburgh) has launced a new website to begin to track Marcellus Shale drilling incidents across the state at http://www.fracktracker.org.

Homeland Security Memo Focuses on Clean Water Advocates

Meanwhile, in a new twist, people determined to maintain clean drinking water and high water quality for themselves, for aquatic life and birds, and for their grandchildren may be surprised to find themselves described as “extremists, militants, and criminals” by the Pennsylania Department of Homeland Security.

Less than a month after former Department of Homeland Security director Tom Ridge, also a recent former governor of Pennsylvania, was hired by the Marcellus Shale industry to do public relations and lobbying work for the gas drilling industry in Pennsylvania, a memo from the Pennsylvania Intelligence Bulletin went out on August 27th, 2010.  Repeatedly combining the word “environmental” with the words “extremist, militant, and criminal,” the memo warned that “criminals” may soon escalate activities directed at the “Energy Sector,” i.e. the gas drilling industry.

The memo included a list of events that Homeland Security and FBI agents should watch out for.  Along with several hearings about Marcellus Shale gas drilling across the state, including a City Council hearing in Pittsburgh, the memo listed the Philadelphia GASLAND screening.

It is unknown at this time whether there is any connection between former governor Tom Ridge signing a July 30th contract for $900,000 to promote the Marcellus Shale industry in Pennsylvania, and the August 27th memo in the Pennsylvania Intelligence Bulletin.

The industry right now is working hard to try to get Harrisburg to overrule any attempts by local municipalities and townships to pass ordinances putting any kind of limit on drilling anywhere in the state.  Citizens, typically regular people with families and full-time jobs, working as volunteers, try to turn out to hearings to advocate for reasonable limits on industrial activities known to contaminate water, land, and air.

The Bulletin listed the following as events for Homeland Security to watch out for:

2 September

– a hearing on a proposed Marcellus Shale Formation gas drilling ordinance in Cranberry Township (Butler County)

13 September

– a hearing on Marcellus Shale Formation gas drilling in the Pittsburgh City Council chambers (414 Grant St.)

20 September

– a hearing in Damascus (Wayne County) on a proposed amendment to zoning regulations regarding drilling

4 October

– a hearing on a proposed amendment to the township zoning ordinance to regulate oil and gas drilling operations in Upper St. Clair Township (Allegheny County)

3 September 2010:

A screening of the controversial Gasland movie is slated for the Piazza in Northern Liberties (near the Delaware River) in Philadelphia.

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